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City of Banjul
Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Child mortality

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With Aisha Jallow

The other day I was listening to the news while driving to my work. There was a report about child mortality in the world, and one part of that report stood out for me. The report stated that child mortality in Rwanda has decreased by 75 per cent. 75 per cent! That is a lot. That is amazing and obviously that is achievable even in Africa, as Rwanda has managed with that. I have heard that Rwanda takes the lead in many matters, but this one was so special as they seem to appreciate children there, more than in The Gambia.

I have to suppose that Gambian parents love their kids, and want the best for them, but the signals from the society and the leaders show something different.

The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 smashed the school system into pieces. An ambitious programme for re-building, and great governmental grants for education, have made it possible for almost all children to start school and a clear majority completes it. Unicef in cooperation with the government of Rwanda, started early development centres. Here, children up to six years of age, can get a chance to play at the same time as learn things. Parents gather to talk and to get information. They learn how to cook nutritious food for their children and also how important it is to take part in their children’s early development.

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The first years in life are crucial for the future of a child. The ones who, during this period of time, have loving care, clean water, good hygiene, nutritious food and healthcare have larger chances to survive, grow up and develop their physical and psychological skills. A good start in life is the foundation for a child’s success in school and for lifelong health and well-being. Therefore an investment in these early years is the best guarantee for developing a sustainable economy and the society. Still far too many children lack this basic security – mainly because of poverty and the lack of knowledge in the society where they are born and grow up.

Today, 4.9 million children die before the age of five. About 2.3 million of these children die during their first month after being born. Even if these numbers are terrifying, it is progress. Since the year 2000, the child mortality in the world has more than halved. In low income countries, more than half of the infants die because of infections that could have been prevented. Diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles, tetanus and Aids are some of them. Malnutrition and lack of clean water and sanitation are making the situation more difficult and contribute to high death toll. Many children also die due to complications at childbirth and lack of proper equipment and skilled personnel.

The health of the mother changes for life because the life of a child begins before it is born. Malnutrition and poor health of the mother can lead to low birth weight of the baby. This leads to increased risk of developmental disability, nutritional problems and even death. If the mother is unwell, the risk to herself increases because she can get infected easily and or even die due to pregnancy or labour complications. While the reasons behind child mortality can be complicated, the solutions are often both simple and cheap. With the help of clean water, nutritional supplements, good hygiene and extensive child and maternal healthcare, the lives of many of the children could be saved.

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Maternal healthcare must be developed. There must be necessary equipment and medications at every clinic and hospital. All clinics must have access to clean water and sanitation. Staff must have proper training on how to care for children suffering from malnutrition.

Child health care must also be developed. Already at birth there must be access to life-saving medications and equipment at the health facilities. All their personnel must be well trained to care for vulnerable patients. The mothers must be supported and encouraged to breast feed and instructed on how to breast feed properly. Access to vaccines must be developed with the goal being that all children are fully protected against diseases such as measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tuberculosis, polio and tetanus. All hospitals and clinics must be clean, have proper toilets and there must be places to wash hands.

The reason why I am telling you all this is because I hope I could inspire the Gambia government to follow Rwanda in this case, to save lives. Instead of focusing on filling one’s pockets with loans and grants, the government of The Gambia should fill all the clinics and hospitals with adequate equipment, medications and skilled personnel. The days when relatives have to go to a pharmacy to buy bandages and medications for patients should be a fading memory of an ugly past. All hospitals and clinics must maintain the highest level of hygiene in the facilities and among the staff.

All healthcare must be affordable and no one should die because he or she can’t pay hospital bills. No one should hesitate to seek the doctor because of unaffordability. All government workers should be able to afford their healthcare, and be paid well enough to never hesitate seeking the doctor. They can travel abroad to have operations that can’t be performed in The Gambia. It is a shame that nothing has improved in this area since 2017! What are your lives worth? What are your children’s lives worth? Not much, as it seems, as no investments have been done in improving your health.

I wish that the government could take a grip on the healthcare area, and decide that enough is enough. From now on, there must be a revolution in this area, something to be proud of instead of being ashamed of. People in the West, who speak about Africa, only see and hear about the bad things that happen. It is a fact that bad news sells better than good news, but why couldn’t the Gambian government decide that it is about time to tell the world that a lot of good things are happening in The Gambia? Well, nothing is still not good enough to write home about, but things can change if there is political will.

Before the next election, make sure to investigate government matters as much as you are able to. Find the facts, don’t only listen to trash talk or allow your own prejudice to rule you. Don’t settle with the fancy promises your ears will be filled with. Make some research and find out what promises were made the last time, and which (if any) of these promises has been fulfilled. The guys in power are counting on your lack of knowledge, or even laziness. They know that you will not put pressure on them. Surprise them this time! Put a lot of pressure on them and don’t settle for empty promises.

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