Child mortality in Africa in a big problem and has been a growing issue in the past decades. This mortality can be caused by childbirth, malnutrition, drug abuse, etc. In South Africa this high rate of mortality is unacceptably high, with about 62 out of every 1,000 children who are dying before they reach their fifth birthday. This shows us that looking at a figure it would be approximately 5 out of every 1,000 children in if we take the United Kingdom as an example.
When we look at South Africa for example most of the deaths and child mortality rates are a result of HIV/AIDS and preventable and treatable diseases such as malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea. The province of Limpopo is a region in South Africa where poverty is extremely high and under-resourced in the country with 81% of children living under the poverty line. Access to healthcare or services are minimal to none and many children in Limpopo die most of the time at home without contact with the formal health services in the region. It has been said that 60% of deaths of these children are under the age of five.
How can we then prevent such a high child mortality rate?
These deaths could be prevented through the use of community based interventions and better health services and access for the families. This could be done with locally trained Community health workers. It is therefore important to aim at tackling child mortality through different resources by reducing the prevalence of childhood diseases amongst 14,400 children under the age of five in the region of Limpopo. By tackling this issue it is believed that we should have different tactics to create change. The first is simply through educating more Community health workers and the community on basic hygiene, secondly through family planning so that they are more aware of what their child might have, thirdly more physical activities can be used to ameliorate the physique of little kids but by the use of games, sport and memory games it can be a more entertaining way to “educate” children and their parents on how child mortality could be prevented. Lastly, a better way to explain how to prevent unwanted pregnancies but also how to have a healthier pregnancy is needed so that child mortality diminishes. This project might strengthen the community awareness, knowledge and skills related to diseases that affect the younger ones in the community. It will also provide communities with the on-going means to diagnose and treat them when necessary.
Education and family planning to lower child mortality
We could argue that the problem for such a high rate of child mortality comes from a logical cycle. If women are for example not encouraged to get educated and men are also not going to school or do not make it to secondary school, it means that the majority of one specific community is uneducated and thus issues that seem straightforward for us in the Western world might not be so straightforward there. It is therefore important to end this education crisis. The crisis demands the urgent attention of political leaders and aid partners for change to happen. The target of universal primary education by 2015 was likely to be missed by a wide margin, meaning that millions of children were left out of school. Meanwhile, on the other hand many of these children in school are receiving an education of such poor quality that they are learning very little meaning that even if they hear about health and how to prevent certain illnesses it is most probably not well explained and thus it will not change much in their daily lives.
Since Africa has the biggest inequality on the basis of education it happens much too often that the ones who need education and the ones who could make a change are the ones not allowed to go to school. All too often, children who are born in poor families, or born female, or in rural or conflict-affected areas have a greater disadvantage when it comes to education. It is therefore important that simple education on disease, malnutrition, etc. is provided to these more disadvantaged groups as simple information can make a tremendous positive change.
All children deserve an equal chance at obtaining good education which will teach them first basic knowledge at for example how to stay healthy and how to prevent certain diseases. It is important to understand that through good education the mortality rate will diminish and the communities will become aware of a better hygienic lifestyle as that will be taught in schools. Learning drives economic growth and it fuels innovation and creates jobs. It equips countries – and people – with the necessary skills they need to escape or develop from poverty and build shared prosperity. It enables people to build more secure livelihoods for themselves and their families, and it gives them a better opportunity to enjoy better health and participate in political processes that affect their lives.
Family planning also plays an important role as in many cases families from the Limpopo community are unaware on how to treat a cold, how to diminish fever, what to do when a child has diarrhoea for example. Therefore, on top of educating the younger generation, it is extremely important to also educate the parents on such issues. If these parents would die from such a disease these children would be left alone and that is not what is needed. We need to educate all generations so that no one will die from a technically curable disease.
For all these reasons explained above, every African government needs to enhance its efforts to ensure that all children are in school so that they can be educated on important matters such as high mortality rates, which can be diminished through simple classes on disease prevention through a better hygiene for example. Therefore, far greater attention must be directed towards the quality of education and learning achievement. And governments need to put equity at the centre of their education strategies.
Games and sports to explain hygiene in a simple way
Games and sports can sometimes be more interactive and fun when it comes to hygiene for example. Imagine that some people just do not know that they need to wash their hands in order to diminish the amount of bacteria, or that they need to brush their teeth to prevent any infection. In some parts of the world it all seems obvious, however it is not always so obvious for them as it could be that no one ever told them to either wash their hands or brush their teeth, which is the core to a more hygienic life and thus less possibility to become sick.
Let us imagine a game with a ball where we would teach young children and their parents how important it is to wash away your hand bacteria. We could explain this simple procedure by putting blue glitter on the ball and thus when throwing the ball from one person to another he/she will have bleu glitter on their hands. These glitters encompass the idea of bacteria that will spread and if not washed away could lead to diarrhoea, pneumonia and other illnesses that could kill them. This game is interactive and through visuals, thus the glitter, it is more simple to understand how a simple hand wash can change a lot when it comes to the health of these more vulnerable children. The idea of sports and games come together in this education process. It leads to more physical activity as well as education on a serious and important topic in a simplified manner.
To conclude in the case of the region of Limpopo several achievements have been reached, however even if there has been amelioration it is far from being enough change. Lot of community workers as well as the community have been educated and informed on how to ameliorate someone’s health and thus how to change the community’s health and thus diminish the high rate of infant mortality. With the four steps discussed above, changes have been taking place. An example of such is through education, family planning, sport and games there have been reduced incidents of diarrhoea from 54 out of every 1,000 children to about 38 out of 1,000 children. And there has also been a diminished amount of deaths related to pneumonia from 59 out of every 1,000 children to 23 out of 1,000 children. It is important to keep in mind that every achievement is a victory even if it sometimes seems to have little effect it still remains a victory.
*Patricia Vermeulen is CEO of Amref Flying Doctors in the Netherlands.