As child health week or child health days comes to a close, Akossa Mphepo approaches Henry Chimbali, Ministry of Health public relations officer, on what the ministry planned this year and the key things mothers need to remember as regards to their under-five children.
Child health days were first conducted from December 1-14, 2003 in conjunction with United Nations ChildrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fund (Unicef). The overall objective was to provide some child survival services to under-five and school children in order to increase coverage beyond the routine services.
According to Chimbali, child health days offer a cost-effective way for districts to provide preventive services to many more mothers and children beyond what is possible through routine health facility visits or contacts.
The ministry spokesperson says this year, the campaign has been held to improve the health and welfare of children by providing vitamin A and de-worming tablets.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Ministry of Health also sought to mobilise people to take action on selected aspects of preventive health,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Chimbali.
The campaign covered the following key services and interventions in the field of child health:
1. Vitamin A supplementation for all children 6Ã¢â‚¬â€œ59 months of age and post-natal mothers within eight weeks of delivery
2. De-worming for all children from 12 to 59 months of age
3. Infant and young child feeding education
4. Promotion of ITN use
5. Promotion of hygiene in relation to infant and young child feeding
6. Promotion of use of iodised salt
Why is vitamin A supplementation being put in the forefront?
According to Chimbali, vitamin A deficiency is the main cause of preventable blindness in children. Vitamin A plays an important role in strengthening the bodyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s resistance to infection. Those children who are vitamin A deficient suffer an increased risk of death and illness, particularly from measles and diarrhoea.
A meta-analysis of several studies has shown that improving the vitamin A status of deficient children aged 6-59 months by giving supplements twice yearly dramatically increases their chances of survival by:
- Ã‚Â· Reducing all-cause mortality by 23%;
- Ã‚Â· Reducing measles mortality by 50%;
- Ã‚Â· Reducing diarrhoea disease mortality by 33%.
Twice yearly preventive vitamin A supplementation is one of the most cost-effective health interventions for reducing infant and child mortality.
As vitamin A is stored in the liver, high-dose vitamin A supplements can be given once every four to six months to prevent vitamin A deficiency in children.
Why is de-worming being emphasised?
There is strong evidence demonstrating how worm infections damage a childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s health. Worm infections are also associated with a significant loss of micronutrients. Roundworms are the most prevalent soil-transmitted helminth (parasitic worm) infection in preschool children and cause poor absorption of vitamin A, which can aggravate malnutrition and anaemia rates and contribute to retarded growth. A childÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s physical fitness and appetite are negatively affected and his or her cognitive performance at school is compromised.
Next week: sources of vitamin A for your children and how you can keep your kids worm-free.