Compliments of the New Year! After the celebrations and New Year’s resolutions, it is time to look at what 2015 may bring for the children of Malawi. This year marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is the last year to reach the targets set to address extreme poverty in its many dimensions.
Since their adoption in 2000, the MDGs have proved to be the most successful anti-poverty strategy in history. The MDGs have helped set global and national priorities and fuel action in countries around the world. Substantial results have been achieved for children and young people, and Unicef is proud to have played its role.
Malawi has made strides in many areas. Child mortality has been reduced by more than 70 percent so more children have reached their fifth birthdays. As a result Malawi is one of few low income countries that have already achieved MDG 4. Despite this remarkable achievement, the youngest are still at risk of early death. The first 28 days of life represent the most vulnerable time for a child and since 2011, the newborn death rate reduced by only three percent. In 2015, we will focus our energy on working with partners to ensure neonatal survival becomes a major priority so that more young lives are saved.
Malawi should also be proud that the nations’ HIV infection rate continues to decline, and nowhere has that reduction been so dramatic as among children. New HIV infections in children aged 0 to 14 have reduced by 67 percent in the last 5 years—the highest reduction across the continent. This extraordinary progress is largely attributed to an effective programme to stop HIV positive mothers passing the virus to their babies. As long as mothers are tested and treated early in their pregnancy, chances of passing HIV on to their babies is less than five percent.
Malawi can celebrate the number of young lives protected from HIV, but the focus now shifts to adolescents, among whom HIV rates are still increasing. Latest figures show that there were 3 200 new infections amongst people (aged 15-19) in 2013. This figure is too high. Despite various prevention programmes, there is a gap between what young people know, and what they do. In 2015 we will work to ensure better communication with young people, so that knowledge is translated into behaviours that do not put young people at risk.
The final area I would like to focus on is education. While enrolment rates are high at 86 percent, only 47 percent of girls and 57 percent of boys complete their primary education. With these statistics, it is clear that Malawi will not meet the MDG target on basic education. While the focus has been on access to education, it is now increasingly clear that it is equally important to look at quality of education. Here, Malawi is not doing so well. Standardised tests for the region (Sacmeq) show Malawi performing consistently poorly, coming bottom in reading English and 13th out of 14 countries in mathematics both in 2000 and in 2007/8.
Unicef will focus its efforts in 2015 on ensuring we improve the results in the classroom, by ensuring children are fit for school and schools are fit for children. It involves supporting teachers with skills and materials to teach, as well as school and district leaders to ensure schools are well managed. But we also must go beyond the school walls, and engage with communities and traditional leaders to ensure children engage in early learning activities, are not limited due to poor health and nutrition and are not discouraged through harmful cultural practices.
So, in 2015 comes an end and a beginning. The MDGs will expire, and we will discover the successor. A lot has been achieved through setting targets and focusing on critical development priorities. But there is also recognition that the next set of priorities must be broader and ensure that the gains reached can be sustained. The unfinished business of investing in the rights and well-being of women and children as well as ensuring emerging and neglected issues are boldly addressed is my resolution for 2015. I hope you will join me.
Happy New Year to All.
—The author is Unicef Country Representative for Malawi