Day of the African Child 2017

Boy in Kenya

Improving maternal health, a strategic pathway to child survival, education and sustainable development. The Day of the African Child (DAC) has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991. It was launched in memory of the student uprising in Soweto, South Africa, where children marched to protest against poor quality education and demanded to be taught in their own languages.

It serves to remember those children, some of whom were killed and many more injured, to celebrate children in Africa, and to inspire a deep reflection that will spur action towards addressing the complex challenges facing children in Africa.

DAC was founded on the 11 of July 1991 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).

The Africa Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children selected the theme for 2017 as “Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030”. This theme is closely aligned with Sustainable Development Goals 1 (End poverty), 2 (Zero hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality education), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Globally, 5.9 million children die every year before their 5th birthday and 80% of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In 2015, the under-five mortality rate in low-income countries was 76 deaths per 1000 live births, about 11 times the average rate in high income countries (7 deaths per 1000 live births). 45% of all under 5 deaths occur in the first 28 days of life (neonatal period). 75% of deaths in the neonatal period occur in the first week of life (early neonatal deaths) and 36% of all neonatal deaths occur in the first day of life. Women and children are more vulnerable during humanitarian crises including deadly epidemics such as Ebola, compromising health care and education.

Interventions to ensure quality maternal and early newborn care are critical to reducing under-5 mortality. Maternal education is critical for child survival and for getting children to school age. There is also evidence that educated adolescent mothers are more likely to use Antenatal Care (ANC) services and skilled attendance at delivery. Improving the knowledge and skills of maternity care providers, establishing systems for quality improvement including relevant indicators to monitor quality of care provided, are important elements of improving maternal health. Understanding the causes of and factors associated with stillbirths also contributes to the design of interventions towards perinatal mortality reduction. Therefore, a healthy mother is crucial for child survival and the chances of having a good education.

The Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, a World Health Organisation collaborative Centre for Research designs and evaluates interventions to improve the quality of care for mothers and their newborn babies. As we renew our efforts to end preventable maternal and child mortality, every effort should be made to ensure that more children have opportunities for good quality and affordable education. This means that every boy and girl should have the opportunity for and complete at least primary and secondary education. This will not only be a significant investment by governments toward equitable and sustainable global development, but also leave a lasting legacy!

About the author

Dr Charles Ameh is a Senior Clinical Lecturer at CMNH. He is a member and fellow of several professional organisations, including Fellowship of the International College of Surgeons and a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.