Food crisis may reverse improvements in Africa: Unicef

May 28th, 2008 - 6:52 pm ICT by admin  

Tokyo, May 28 (DPA) The United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) Wednesday warned that rising food prices in Africa would reverse some of the improvements the continent has made in decreasing child mortality and providing education to children. Unicef executive director Ann Veneman said in Yokohama, where the three-day Tokyo International Conference for African Development is being held, that some of the achievements made so far in child survival and primary health care in sub-Saharan Africa might put some nations on track to meet Millennium Development Goals, which were set by UN members in 2000 and are to be met in 2015.

But the UN children’s agency and other international organizations are concerned rising food prices might drive children away from schools, where they can get free meals.

Lack of food might force children to work, beg on the streets or digress from their education.

“One of the major incentives for children (to stay in school) is a free lunch,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said. “We have to maintain the resources to keep and expand the (lunch) programme.”

Veneman said at a press conference that her agency was monitoring the impact of rising food prices with non-governmental organizations and other groups and laid out some of the health advances made in Africa.

Deaths caused by measles in the sub-Saharan region have dropped 91 percent from 2000 to 2006 and mortality rates of children under five have decreased by 45 percent from 1990 to 2006, Veneman said, citing Unicef’s first report on the State of Africa’s Children, released this year.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete urged all concerned parties to act in concert in improving health systems to provide adequate treatment for mothers and their children.

“I strongly urge all the partners to move toward action,” Kikwete said. “The African children cannot wait any more. The moment is now.”

Access to treatment for HIV-positive mothers and children is rising and coverage of antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV tripled in eastern and southern Africa from 2004 to 2006, the Unicef report said.

But Veneman said difficulties remain, particularly in nations in conflict and in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

To keep making progress, Veneman called for large-scale, focused investments in improved health systems, especially for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Every year, nearly 10 million children die before their fifth birthday, and one half of these deaths occur in Africa,” she said.

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