The greatest tragedy in Africa is the children we let die

Pediatric nurse Christine Sammy (right) trains nurses at Nzeluni health centre on how to resurcitate an asphixiated child during one of her training sessions. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Last week, I listened to a podcast featuring a female nurse who had just been evacuated from Sudan.

She spoke about fears for her family she left behind and her beloved country that is now facing destruction.

The conflict in Sudan is worrying as we could be on the cusp of a humanitarian crisis. There are some who would argue that one of the greatest tragedies in Africa is conflict. If you turn on any news channel, you’ll find one nation or another in Africa making chilling headlines.

But there is one point that the nurse in the podcast mentioned – that her heart broke for the children she left behind. Not her own or her family, but the children in the nation.

She spoke of the vaccination campaigns that would need to be rolled out again since conflict certainly comes with outbreaks from Rotavirus to Cholera.

In reflection, as I often do in recent times, I thought of the emphasis we put on politics and scandals.

I thought of the battered world economy and the surging inflation, following the series of mutually reinforcing shocks, as one UN report put it.

I thought of how African nations often seem to get the short end of the stick in the match called life.

In my musing, a single thought came to mind – who thinks about the children?

Formative Years

Children who are in their formative years require their health to be promoted as it is the greatest determinant in their developmental milestones.

Yet, there are some children who would not get their routine immunisations and not just as a factor of conflict. There are those who live in remote villages or urban slums who cannot access vaccines, children who depend on us and who could consequently die.

As UNICEF reports, around one in five children are not fully protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, with an estimated one in 13 children dying in sub-Saharan Africa before their fifth birthday.

The case couldn’t be clearer – vaccinate every child through effective immunisation programmes and for those left behind, initiate catch-up campaigns. And some might ask, what is the difference?

Vaccination is the term used for getting a vaccine – that is, actually having the injection or taking an oral vaccine dose. Immunisation is the process of both getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the disease after vaccination.

Yes, in times of conflict, we worry about the looming humanitarian crisis.

However, there is a tragedy that we are yet to address and perhaps more salient than the rest – the health risk of children.

As the nurse fled Sudan, she too thought of the children we were already losing to preventable diseases and simple factors such as hidden hunger in famine-affected areas. And none of these children would die if they were immunised and nourished.

One of the greatest tragedies in Africa is the children we let die.