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Saving the African Child

By | November 18th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

by Harold Ayodo

Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija says what she went through after losing two children made her understand the pain other women undergo.

She counts as an achievement educating disadvantaged women on simple ways to ensure babies survive the first 28 days after birth.

The medical doctor says the number of mothers and children who die at birth over complications discovered at labour were mind-boggling.

"It is painful that most mothers are literally carried to public hospitals late during complications developed while delivering at home," she says. She resolved to move to the ground in Lagos and other parts of the continent before she discovered that women in Africa underwent similar reproductive challenges.

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"The pain of losing a child is too painful bear. It is even worse for poor women in rural areas and the slums who have no voice," Alakija says.

She founded Transformational Development Agency to bring strategic solutions to issues of social deprivation and extreme poverty.

Poor mothers

She traverses several rural villages and informal settlements in Africa educating disadvantaged women on reproductive health, hygiene and nutrition.

She says most children die before their fifth birthday because their mothers are poor.

"I always think of simple ways to help women make their children live longer as money remains a challenge to many of them," she says.

She is currently convincing governments in the continent to live by their promise in 2001 to commit 15 per cent of their national budgets to health.

"African States committed to allocate the funds to health during the African Union Summit in Abuja eight years ago," she says.

She has served in the United Nations under various capacities including managing regional reproductive health programmes.

"Women in leadership should use their positions to fight for the life of the newborns of their counterparts," Alakija says.

Liberia, which has the only woman President in the Continent, has made leaps in making commitments to child health.

"The African child must be allowed to live — as human beings — and be productive. Our children should no longer succumb to preventable causes," she says.

She spent months in Rwanda encouraging women who lost their husbands and children pick themselves up after the genocide that left more than 800,000 dead in 1994.

"I am inspired to fight for the disadvantaged child and woman in Africa. Education is the shortest way to success," Alakija says.

She was recently in Tanzania and Malawi where she convinced the Governments embrace cost-effective ways of reducing child mortality.

She is currently in Kenya for three days to launch the first global World Vision five-year programme to prevent deaths of children under five.

The World Vision Child Health Now ambassador says statistics show that over 24,000 children under the age of five die daily and 4.5 million annually.

"Research studies show that most of our children die of preventable causes like diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and complications at childbirth," she says.

Political commitment

Alakija says 40 per cent of child deaths in Africa occur in the first 28 days of life — deaths that could be contained cheaply. "Two thirds of the 4.5 million child deaths could be saved through simple interventions like better nutrition and skilled birth attendance," she says.

Alakija says Governments should help educate women on cost-effective ways to save the lives of children.

"Exclusive breastfeeding, immunisation, skilled birth attendants, use of bed nets and oral rehydration could save more than six million babies annually," she says.

Approximately 40 per cent of mothers globally still deliver without skilled birth attendants.

"The current trends portend that there will be seven million deaths of children under five in 2015," she says.

The doctor says women completing secondary education improve their health and that of their children.

"We need political commitment in the continent to save our children. We are losing millions who could be presidents like Barack Obama," she says.

Alakija says an understanding husband who is an engineer and a 13-year-old daughter make her tick.

"My husband understands what I am trying to do for the African child, but I always remember that I am a mother and a wife too," she says.

Delicate balance

She squeezes time between her globe trotting commitments for family meetings.

"It is challenging for any woman to balance between family and profession – I am not an exception," she says with a broad smile.

Growing up and pursuing a profession that is believed to be a preserve of men in Africa never discouraged her.

"My parents brought me up believing that I am a human being with the ability to change lives. I have never looked at myself as a woman," Alakija says.

She believes Governments in Africa can leap from poverty by making education more accessible to girls.

"Dropout rates of girls is not only high in Kenya, but other States in the continent and developing countries," she says.

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