…Says FG’s commitment could avert trends
By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children, yesterday said two million children in Nigeria could die in the next decade unless more is done to fight pneumonia.
The international organizations in a statement issued yesterday also identified malnutrition, air pollution and lack of access to vaccines and antibiotics among the drivers of preventable deaths from pneumonia—which last year killed a child every three minutes in Nigeria.
It said government must step up efforts to fight pneumonia to avert over 2 million child deaths from pneumonia and other major diseases in Nigeria.
The modelling by Johns Hopkins University was released yesterday as nine leading health and children’s agencies host the world’s first global conference on childhood pneumonia in Barcelona.
Forecasts showed that 1.4 million children under the age of five could die from pneumonia over the next decade in Nigeria, on current trends – the highest number of any country in the world and more than 20 percent of childhood deaths from pneumonia globally.
However, an estimated 809,000 of these deaths would be averted by significantly scaling up services to prevent and treat pneumonia.
Researchers also found boosting pneumonia services would create an additional ‘ripple effect’, preventing 1.2 million extra child deaths from other major childhood diseases at the same time.
“Interventions like improving nutrition, increasing vaccine coverage or boosting breastfeeding rates – key measures that reduce the risk of children dying from pneumonia – would also stop thousands of child deaths from diseases like diarrhoea (580,000), meningitis (68,000), measles (55,000) and malaria (4,000).
“By 2030, that effect would be so large that pneumonia interventions alone would avert over 2 million predicted under-five child deaths in Nigeria from all causes combined,” researchers said.
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and leaves children fighting for breath as their lungs fill with pus and fluid.
The disease is the leading killer of children in Nigeria, causing 19 percent of under-five deaths.
Most pneumonia deaths can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics. But more than 40 percent of one-year-olds in Nigeria are unvaccinated, and three in four children suffering from pneumonia symptoms do not get access to medical treatment.
Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria’s Country Representative, said:
“We have a responsibility to do all we can to avert these deaths by pneumonia – deaths that are nearly all preventable. It will take concerted action by all players. The announcement by the Nigerian government of the world’s first-ever pneumonia control strategy – coupled with the focus globally on combatting pneumonia – is a huge step forward. We now need to follow this with concrete action on the ground to address the causes and drivers of childhood pneumonia deaths in this country.”
Also, Deirdre Keogh, Country Director, Save the Children International, said:
“The number of lives that could be saved is potentially far higher, as the modelling did not take account of factors like availability of medical oxygen, or action to reduce levels of air pollution, a major risk factor for pneumonia.
“These results show what is possible if vaccines, affordable antibiotics and routine oxygen treatment are available for all.”
On January 29-31, nine leading health and children’s organisations – ISGlobal, Save the Children, UNICEF, Every Breath Counts, ”la Caixa” Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – are hosting world leaders at the Global Forum on Childhood Pneumonia in Barcelona, the first international conference on childhood pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Save the Children and UNICEF commanded the Nigerian government’s decision to create a dedicated budget line for child protection services in the country’s National Chart of Accounts.
The implementation of the six segments of the Chart of Accounts commenced with the 2011 budget.
This is now the first time a Ministry in Nigeria is requesting for a line and code to be added in the functional segment of the national chart of Accounts.
Both organizations had been working closely with the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to ensure increased public finances were made available to promote and protect the rights of children suffering from violence across the country.
Deirdre Keogh, Country Director of Save the Children, said, “This comes in line with the National Campaign to End Violence Against Children, launched by President Buhari in 2016. It is also in line with our Stop the War on Children Campaign as poor funding for children decreases the survival and protection rate for children in conflict.
Adequate financing of child protection services in federal and
state government budgets is critical to ending violence against children by 2030.”
The statement said expenditure on children – especially on child protection services – has remained low in Nigeria to date.
According to the Financial Benchmark on Child Protection Study, released by the Nigerian Government and UNICEF in March 2019, only 0.16% of government expenditure is spent on child protection services. Also, more than ten Nigerian ministries, departments, and agencies have a child protection mandate and are trying to provide adequate funding for their activities in annual budget submissions.
Hawkins, Country Representative of UNICEF Nigeria, added, “With multi-sectoral investments, a dedicated budget line for child protection in federal and state Chart of Accounts will allow for a more coordinated, transparent and effective use of public finances. When fully implemented and correctly used, this would enhance the capacity to further strengthen systems to protect children wherever they are.”
On January 28, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning conveyed a high-level meeting on the effective budgeting for child protection in Nigeria and its inclusion into the National Chart of Accounts. Other strategic stakeholders at the meeting include Save the Children and UNICEF.
The decisive meeting provided the opportunity for the stakeholders to agree on next steps in adding child protection in the Chart of Accounts.