The Country Representative of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Sheldon Yett, said Liberia needs more trained, skilled and empowered health workers to enhance the vision and aspirations of the government and its partners as it relates to the delivery of health services in the country.
Mr. Yett indicated that skilled and empowered frontline health workers have been key to delivering life-saving health care services for newborns and children in deprived and hard to reach areas. A move he believed has contributed immensely to the reduction of maternal, newborn and under-five deaths.
Speaking Tuesday, February 4, at the inaugural session of a three-day workshop organized by government and her partners in the health sector, the UNICEF boss called for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and its partner, including UNICEF, to be more pro-active and inclusive in designing and initiating programs of health service delivery, making specific reference to equity (fairness).
The three-day workshop has brought together 30 community health workers, county health directors, senior health ministry officials and programme staff to field test the new World Health Organization WHO/UNICEF handbook on newborn and child care. The three-day workshop is being facilitated by experts from UNICEF, WHO and Save the Children.
The workshop aims to educate participants on effective health practices for newborn and child care so they can put them to practice in their own communities. At the end of the workshop, participants will develop a plan to implement practices learned during the workshop such as umbilical cord care and kangaroo mother care.
Mr. Yett said, “Equity needs to be the heart of what we are doing. We need to be doing more to reach the most vulnerable communities and ensure the people of these communities have access to better new born and child care.”
He added that despite Liberia achieving the fastest under-five child mortality reduction rate in Africa, over 12,000 children die every year from preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory illnesses and diarrhoea.
“Thirty two children die every day from preventable diseases. These children might have been with us today if they received basic and timely health interventions,” he said, adding that malnutrition is the underlying cause for one-third of all child deaths in Liberia.
Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services, Tolbert G. Nyenswah said the high stunting rate of 36% recorded a few years ago is unacceptable and that the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative, in addition to the introduction of integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) of childhood illnesses in the five impoverished South East counties would alleviate child malnutrition and further reduce child mortality.
“We are aware of our challenges and we are not complacent. We are committed to reducing child mortality in the country,” he declared, adding, “The collective efforts of international partners and a strong and committed government were reasons for Liberia’s achievements.”
Minister Nyenswah lauded the textbook initiative and said that it would be very helpful to the ministry and the health delivery system of the country.
“The textbook would be very useful for us to train general community health volunteers in new born care at the community level. They would gain the knowledge needed to disseminate essential nutritional messages to their communities for proper growth and development of children,” said Netus Nowine, county health director from Grand Gedeh County.
However, the 2013 Health Management Information System (HMIS) assessed an approximate 40% of Liberia’s estimated 4 million people lack access to healthcare; with the average citizen living more than five km from a health facility.
UNICEF has been supporting the government to implement high impact and low-cost health interventions especially in the most difficult to reach populations in impoverished South East Liberia.