The theme of the rare gathering was as soothing as it was compelling: “Nourish their bodies. Feed their minds. Secure our future”. It could hardly have been put better.
A critical look at the facts and figures made available to delegates and the media painted a sombre picture of the lot of millions of infants and young children.
The situation is all the sadder considering the huge number of organisations established with the express aim of soliciting funds and other resources with which to add value to the lives of these otherwise helpless children. Were this indeed the case, these children would surely more fully enjoy their basic right of developing to their fullest potential and therefore contribute fully to their communities and the larger society.
Unfortunately, some of those setting out ostensibly to champion the rights of these fragile members of society often end up misusing the very resources that would have helped them accomplish their noble vision.
The result shows in the data periodically given by such notable agencies as UNICEF and UNESCO, particularly in relation to the nutrition, health care, education and safety of infants and younger children.
Cases in point include these cruel facts, all well-substantiated and widely acknowledged: a whole 42 per cent of under-fives in Tanzania are physically and emotionally stunted, another 16 per cent are malnourished, 63 per cent don’t attend pre-school, and half of all young children in rural areas live below the basic needs poverty line.
This First Biennial Forum on Early Childhood Development and was co-organised by the government and reputable international agencies including the World Bank, UNICEF, The Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Children in the Crossfire.
As noted, there was also a heavy presence of representatives of scores of Tanzanians NGOs, CBOs, FBOs, etc., etc., among them an umbrella agency known as Tanzania Early Childhood Development Network – TECDEN, for short. All these had visions and missions that that were just about identical, declaring that they were out to contribute to the building of a Tanzania where all children in the zero to 8 age bracket “are treasured in such a way that their basic rights are met and their rights to survive and really thrive are realised”.
There was much optimistic talk at the Arusha meeting – as well as consensus on the need to mobilise community, national and international resources to support the implementation of programmes revolving around children’s nutrition, health care, early learning and protection.
We only hope that all concerned will implement their pledges and ensure that all resources coming their way but meant to improve the lot of infants and younger children actually go into supporting the right causes and not otherwise.
All stakeholders must take stock of their contribution to initiatives to guarantee our children as good a deal as resources allow, at least by desisting from acts likely to sabotage such well-meaning efforts.
We need to be a lot more vigilant to wage a winning war on malaria
A rich blend of interventions, among them sensitisation of the citizenry on the importance of ensuring a high standard of environmental hygiene, is credited with having helped Zanzibar to cut the prevalence of malaria from 40 per cent in 2005 to as low as less than one per cent a short eight years later.
Other interventions cited include the use of insect-treated mosquito nets, proper diagnosis and undergoing medication as prescribed by health experts.
Some six years ago, the Zanzibar Malaria Control Programme (ZMCP) appeared all but convinced that progress was encouraging enough for the world to expect the Isles to not even a single case of locally acquired of the killer disease by this year.
The year is still in its infancy and anything can happen, but a recent random survey in parts of metropolitan Zanzibar provides little evidence that the dream remains hopelessly remote – that is, that hitting the target by the projected deadline is highly unlikely.
Officials would not confirm or deny it, all right, but there is every indication that there are now a lot more mosquitoes in the municipality than obtained during what could be described as the peak of the Isles’ success in reining in mosquitoes and therefore reducing the incidence and prevalence of malaria and other vector-borne diseases.
IRIN, a news agency that focuses on humanitarian stories in regions often forgotten, under-reported, misunderstood or ignored, reported in early 2010 that the gains Zanzibar had made in combating malaria were at risk.
It was none other than the head of ZMCP’s diagnostic unit who admitted as much, stating: “Despite the achievements in reducing malaria, a lack of funds for awareness-raising, indoor residual spraying and surveillance, is a challenge. Also, we have a problem with people’s resistance to behavioural change, particularly in keeping the environment clean and in the use of mosquito nets.”
Unless urgent measures are taken to build on the 1970s’ internationally applauded progress Zanzibar had registered in rolling back, and occasionally thereafter, we may witness these fears confirmed.
That would be disastrous, to say the least, as this is a disease known to have immense capacity to cause untold havoc whenever there are slip-ups in efforts to implement precautionary measures.
In the circumstances, we hope to see enhanced levels of vigilance, surveillance, monitoring, evaluation and response across the Isles. This would be with a view to making sure that no one uses financial constraints, say, to justify reluctance or refusal to undergo malaria testing and treatment.
Such behaviour would definitely increase the risk of slipping back, and with it completely unnecessary consequences such as further transmission and deaths.
Experts see having proper strategies and joining hands in sustaining control measures as the easiest and most cost-effective way to prevent malaria from striking even with greater vengeance.
But, as will have been learnt from one of the front-page news stories in this issue of The Guardian, the Zanzibar government has good news for the Isles, Tanzania and the world. And it is that it is embarking on a fresh drive to keep malaria at bay.
However, the news will make much more sense if it jolts the rest of Tanzania into following suit – with concrete action. The reason for this is simple: malaria is endemic in many parts of the country, with Zanzibar not the worst hit.