Focus on health

What can be done NOW to stop children dying of preventable causes

SOS Children
Saving a child's life is not expensive @ J.Honore

The challenges - It is predicted that in 2013 over five million children will die globally of preventative causes before reaching their fifth birthday. Respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and malaria will significantly contribute to the death toll. A major cause of this is the lack of access to affordable basic health services. Preventative health education, though cost effective, is underutilised in developing countries.

Poor coordination of curative and preventative health strategies has led to inefficiencies in many regions. Public health spending is among the most underfunded of the Millennium Development Goals. Community health cannot be improved without sufficient training in peer education methods. Illiteracy, social and cultural norms often create barriers to maternal health.

 John could not talk, he had a very big stomach, he had jiggers (parasitic insects that lay eggs under the skin) on his feet, hands, penis and mouth. They had really eaten him up and he was shaking like he had a fever. His house was made of mud and was a breeding ground for jiggers. The father didn't care - it was as if everyone was waiting for John to die.

 (Ruth, SOS co-worker from Uganda)

Many decisions are still mainly made by men in most communities. Education can encourage men to break away from harmful cultural practices against women and become more involved and supportive of women's needs, choices, and rights as regards maternal health. They can also improve women's positions in decision-making practices.

(SOS Children‟s Villages Family Survey 2011, Uganda)

The response - By aligning curative and preventative healthcare, governments can save lives. Basic health care must be made available and affordable to all. Donors and governments that allocate more funds to preventative healthcare will see improvements in maternal health. Strategies based on social, cultural and behavioural change do have both short and long-term impact. By providing relevant information and training to the poorest communities, health education initiatives can provide a cost effective method of healthcare. 

Case study - Romania 

Despite reforms, economic growth and accession to the European Union in 2007, Romania
still suffers the consequences of the social and economic policies pursued under the Ceausescu regime. When the former dictator was overthrown in 1990, children living in state orphanages were found to be malnourished and living in terrible conditions. Even today, Romania still has low levels of employment and wages, a large rural population and widening regional disparities in social and health service coverage. 13.8% of the population live below the poverty line and health expenditure per citizen is the lowest in the European Union.

SOS Children
Families are strengthened through access to medical and other services @ J. Lugtigheid

SOS Children’s Villages Romania initiated a programme in 1999 in line with the government’s strategy to prevent poverty-related placement of children in state orphanages. It addresses poor and socially vulnerable families who are at high risk of being separated from their children. An SOS social centre in Bucharest supported a total of 236 children and their parents in 2009. Over 90% of the participating families have an income below the minimum wage.

The social centre supports the families to improve living conditions and increase
access to social, educational and medical services. Material and financial support is provided. Parents are offered training in parenting skills. Children participate in social activities to build social and emotional skills. Families receive social and psychological counselling. Social workers also help prevent discrimination faced by families in public institutions such as hospitals and schools. This may be due to poverty or Roma ethnicity.

Families are assisted in accessing medical services. During house visits and counselling sessions, social workers encourage families to have periodic health checks. They are also helped to understand medical diagnoses, vaccinations and treatment.

The centre provides financial help to acquire medicines that are not paid for by the state. The centre partners with facilities that offer family planning and birth control education. Approximately 60% of the mothers who accessed the family planning and birth control services started to use birth control methods. For some it was a sensitive issue to overcome resistances and fears due to reasons such as religious background.

Health conditions have improved and home visits have motivated parents to take better
care of their health and improve hygiene. All families who leave the programme are registered with a family doctor and benefit from free medical services, health check-ups and are inclined to take their children to the doctor when problems occur.

SOS Children’s Villages advocates for legislation at a national level to give priority to health care services. We provide support for families outside a formal health insurance system. The psychosocial support highlighted in our case study from Zimbabwe demonstrates why a multifaceted approach to healthcare is important. We offer training and awareness-raising campaigns. In addition, we support governments who wish to improve preventative health and enact legislation that is family focused.

The above is an extract of the first chapter.

To read the chapter in full download FAMILY FOCUS 2012