Around the world, childbirth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds it’s a family tragedy and in Africa, it is worse than a tragedy. I call it the curse of geography. Enduring life in a place that has the world’s highest mortality rate does not ensure that the spell of the curse is broken. An average African who makes it to teenage years will live 17 years less than one born in America or even Europe. The continent has precarious demography- 95 percent of Africa’s population is less than 60 years of age, the average life expectancy at birth- 60 years.
The sustainable development goal 3 targets to promote healthy lives and well-being for all children. The SDG targets to end preventable deaths of newborn and under 5 children by 2030. Despite the fact that the world has made substantial progress in reducing child mortality rates, disparities still exist in reducing the under 5 mortalities across regions and countries. 10 countries in Africa have the worlds highest under-five mortality rate with 1 child in 13 dying before his or her fifth birthday, 15 times higher than high-income countries. In 2018, half of all under-five deaths occurred in just five countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More statistics, please?
According to WHO most of Africa’s children under five are exposed to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which is higher than the WHO air quality guidelines. Sure we are advocating for afforestation, fighting for climate, addressing global warming but the effects have caught up with us and we are losing lives while at it. Furthermore, acute respiratory infection is the leading cause of death of children in the African region. Again, according to WHO. In a fast-developing continent, the economic cost of premature deaths from air pollution alone is estimated at $450 billion. The economic loss due to the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is estimated to be 5 percent of the region’s gross domestic product.
Have we made progress? Sure but it has been abysmal so far. As if the burden of reducing the known diseases affecting children under the age of five is not enough, the continent is under the grip of the rich world’s diseases as well- non-communicable diseases. We have introduced childhood cancer, diabetes and obesity- after all, we are developing. With climate change and environmental destruction, we will have to deal with the emergence of a variety of diseases that we are not prepared to deal with. When this time comes, a strong health system could well be the saviour of us all, this time it will not matter if you are five or fifty-five. Meanwhile, could we be losing our future change makers because we lack the basics?
More than half of under 5 child deaths are due to diseases that are preventable and treatable through simple, affordable interventions across some African countries child health is lowest when water quality, sanitation, air quality and environmental performance are at the lowest. Take the case of Nigeria, diarrhoea is the second biggest killer of children in the country, responsible for about 10 % of under-five death every year. Kenya also shares more or less the same statistics. About 1.7 to 5 billion cases of diarrhoea occur per year. According to WHO, Diarrhea’s status as the second leading killer of children under five is an alarming reminder of the vulnerability of children in Kenya.
In most regions of Africa, added pressures on infrastructure and the environment have compromised child-health outcomes. Environmental degradation is at a point where it is compromising food production and defence against infectious disease. Health professionals have largely ignored the negative effects of environmental degradation including climate change on child health in developing countries. The prevention measure would be a reduction of household air pollution but taking a snapshot at the present, a fast solution to green places for our children is what we should look out for.
Malnourished children, particularly those with severe acute malnutrition have a higher risk of death from common childhood illnesses such as malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia. Mothers should be taught on nutrition and hygiene by trained locals in instances where hospitals are an ‘asset’ to prevent cases such as malnutrition and diarrhoea yet some African countries still lack qualified trained health workers. These health workers can aid mothers in recommending the proper diet for children and also check on them from time to time to access the diet of the children. If trained at the grass-root levels the results would be tremendous as mothers can easily access health care services when the need arises.
Vaccines are available for some of the deadliest childhood diseases such as measles, polio, tetanus and diarrhoea due to rotavirus. Vaccines should be administered to these children regardless of the location to protect them from illnesses.
If we are to reduce newborn mortality to at least 12 per 1000 live births; if we are to reduce under 5 mortalities to at least 25 per 1000 in every country, we must stop looking for solutions from abroad and start working with what we have. The secret is in the basics. The basics which we have turned our backs on in most instances. We must seek workable solutions for the sake of sustainability otherwise blowing candles on the sixth birthday will be a wish most children make on their fifth birthday.