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Two drops for a good start in life

UNICEF Chad/2017/Bahaji

It is an important day for Hawa and Adam, new-born twins. Tradition says that children are to be baptised and therefore, given a name, on the seventh day after their birth. And the day has arrived for these new-borns.

In the middle of the laughs and clapping, we stand here, with a special gift on our hands. Out of coincidence, we witnessed this ceremony the day we visited the village with the polio vaccination team.

Hawa and Adam are lucky babies. Their mother Gamoussou has never spared efforts for the health of her children. “All my children are vaccinated, even the older ones” she told us with a smile, “including my oldest child who is now 17.” A practice that is quite exceptional in that respect, since, only 25% of children in Chad are fully immunised.

Two drops, this simple life-saving gesture, is indeed not always common, and even more so among the hard-to-reach families, who very often do not have access to vaccination and information on vaccination. Gamousso, for example, used to travel all the way to the health center of Tongole, which is 15 km far away from her village – a more than 2 hours trip with pirogue – for healthcare when she was living in Djaluwa, one of the islands of the Lake.

In recent years, with the conflict in Lake Chad and the subsequent insecurity and widespread displacement, access to some communities has been even more difficult. The polio outbreak in 2016 in the Borno state of the bordering Nigeria has however reminded of the upmost importance of immunizing all children, starting especially with those in humanitarian and displacement contexts.

UNICEF Chad/2017/Bahaji
Gamoussou, 37 and her twins who have just received their very first drops against polio. Bol, Lake Chad

Gamousso, who fled the threats of Boko Haram and is now living in Dabantchali on the shore of Lake Chad, recognized that vaccination has never been as easy as today with the door-to-door visit of the immunization team. The Chadian Government has indeed put in all the efforts to keep a Chad polio-free for all groups and populations.

In close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, the Ministry of Health has organized 5 polio immunization campaigns since the beginning of the year, mobilizing more than 8,000 social mobilizers and 16,000 vaccinators. More than 4.4 million children under 5 have been immunized.

With campaigns making sure that nomads, refugees and displaced communities are not left behind, knowledge and attitudes are progressively changing, giving us hope that soon new-born ceremonies, as the one of Hawa and Adam today, will be more and more a celebration of healthy practices to give babies the best start in life.

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In 2017, the Ministry of Public Health, in close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO launched 5 polio immunization campaigns targeting 4.2 million children aged 0-5 years.

The current vaccination campaign is part of a synchronized programme in 13 African countries aiming to end polio in the continent. More than 190,000 vaccinators will vaccinate more than 116 million children to eradicate the disease in Africa.

Chad’s polio eradication efforts are made under the umbrella of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) enabling organizations on the ground such as UNICEF and WHO to effectively support the Government’s efforts. The European Union, the Governments of Japan, Canada and the United States, as well as global partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI Alliance, the Rotary International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) play a key role in financing polio eradication interventions.

The milk of dispute

In Chad, traditional beliefs around breastfeeding are strong and inked deep

Growing up in Chad – a landlocked country of the Sahel belt –  is not easy. Malaria, Diarrhea and other diseases play a huge role in child mortality rate but so does traditional belief.

Yet, Harun Modogo is one of these local heroes that you would not expect to meet in such a challenging context. This Thursday morning, dozens of women arrived at Darasna’s health center with their children, some have walked more than 12 km to attend his session on the advantage of exclusive breastfeeding.

Harun is 42 years old and has been a committed community worker for almost 4 years. « I leave my children very early in the morning to come to work at the health center. What I do is important, I help people and I go home proud. » Harun raises awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in his community, fighting against old habits. In Chad, only 3% of women practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

« In Darasna there is no woman who is exclusively breastfeeding her child, because the first thing to do when the child is born is to wash the child and there he is given water directly. Even if the mother wanted to do exclusive breastfeeding, if she leaves her child for one minute with her relatives, they will give him water. If the child cries, people will automatically give water. In our region, it’s rare to have access to safe drinking water. This why our children get sick most of the time. »

UNICEF Chad:2017:Alliah-2
Haoua Mahamat, 25 years old, 3 children and her son Hassan, 14 months old

Haoua Mahamat is a young and cheerful mother who attended the meeting this morning. « With my first daughter I did exclusive breastfeeding because I was living in the capital, N’Djamena with my first husband’s family and it was them who advised me to follow this practice. Since then we got divorced and I came back to leave with my family here. I remarried and I had 2 other children for which I did not do exclusive breastfeeding. » Her son Hassan, 14 months old, was suffering from severe acute malnutrition and treated in this UNICEF-supported health center.

Haoua had to stop exclusive breastfeeding because of traditional beliefs and family pressure. « People here think that if a child gets sick it is because the breast milk is bad quality. If you see a drop of white milk at the end of the nipple, it means that the milk is good but if the drop is clear like water it means that the milk is bad. »

Halime Mahamat has a very clear idea of the advantage of maternal milk « Breast milk is the best medicine you can give to a baby; it is a blessing for both of us. Many women refuse to breastfeed their babies because they think their milk is not good. In my family, we use to pour some maternal milk in a cup and throw an ant in it. If the ant does not survive, people say that the milk is poisoned and the woman had to stop breastfeeding. For me, breastfeeding is the best way to keep my baby healthy. »

UNICEF Chad:2017:Alliah-1

During the early years of a child, almost 1000 brain cells connect every second – a pace never matched again. When we nourish a child’s body with the proper nutrition, we are also feeding the young brain and facilitating those neural connections.

Exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition are vital for a baby’s health and welfare. In Chad, more than half of the country’s adults (56.4 per cent) have suffered as a result of childhood stunting. This means that more than 3.4 million people of working age are unable to reach their full potential due to childhood undernutrition.

 

Le meilleur départ dans la vie pour chaque enfant

Par Philippe Barragne-Bigot, Représentant de l’UNICEF

Ce que la science nous apprend est une révolution dans la manière dont nous pensons le développement de la petite enfance.

Ce qui arrive – ou n’arrive pas – à un enfant dans les 1 000 premiers jours de sa vie (de la grossesse au 2ème anniversaire de l’enfant) est capital, à la fois pour son bien-être immédiat et pour son avenir.

Pendant ces premières années, près de 1 000 cellules cérébrales se connectent à chaque seconde – une vitesse qui n’est plus jamais atteinte lorsque les apports nutritionnels ne permettent pas de couvrir les besoins de croissance et de développement.

Les études scientifiques démontrent que le développement du cerveau du jeune enfant est très affecté par les facteurs environnementaux.

Une nutrition inadéquate, un manque de stimulation et le stress chez l’enfant peuvent avoir un impact négatif sur son épanouissement intellectuel et émotionnel de manière irréversible.

Ce sont des découvertes d’une importance vitale. Elles nous mettent dans l’obligation d’agir. Quel degré de productivité et de prospérité peut atteindre une société quand, comme c’est le cas au Tchad, 26% des enfants de moins de 5 ans souffrent de malnutrition chronique ?

Nous pouvons inverser cette tendance. Donner à un enfant le meilleur départ dans la vie, c’est briser l’engrenage et le cycle de pauvreté, maladies et inégalités qui se transmet de génération en génération. C’est aussi le meilleur investissement possible pour l’économie.

De nombreuses études ont montré que pour chaque dollar investi en vue de donner aux enfants le meilleur départ dans la vie, les enfants, leur famille et les contribuables obtenaient à long terme un retour sur investissement d’au moins 16 dollars.

Nous devons investir tôt, investir équitablement et investir de manière intelligente – non seulement dans l’éducation, mais aussi dans la santé, la nutrition, l’eau, l’assainissement, la promotion des bonnes pratiques d’hygiène et la protection pour le bien-être des prochaines générations.

Et nous devons le faire tous ensemble. Cela ne concerne pas seulement les gouvernements et les professionnels du développement, mais nous tous, sans exception.

Téléchargez le bulletin des Nations Unies au Tchad ici : Bulletin-Trait-Union-Nations-Unies