Child health in Uganda
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Children in Uganda are regularly exposed to many preventable health risks. According to the WHO, the country ranks 175th out of 193 eligible countries in life expectancy. The country also ranks 168 out of 188 in infant mortality rates, with a lower rank reflecting lower infant mortality. There are many cultural factors influencing the current health status of Uganda including the negative stigmas associated with sex, and the wood-burning stoves. The former[which?] of these has resulted in a severe lack in education and communication necessary to improve the health and well-being of children.
HIV/AIDS is likely the leading health risk facing Ugandan children; it affects many facets of their physical and mental health in a variety of ways. It is the leading cause of death in Uganda, as reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2010.
The CDC has been fairly active in the country, working in cooperation with government organizations as well as a number of other partners. Their work has been on multiple fronts including door to door HIV counseling and testing. Despite these and many other efforts, there are poor rates of treatment of children. Of the 190,000 HIV-positive children in Uganda, only 35,500 received Antiretroviral medication (ARV). Uganda is not alone in this, in 21 high burden African countries, only 34 percent of eligible children receive ARV’s, compared to 68 percent of adults.
In addition, many of the children that receive medication have been found to lack necessary diligence in their drug therapy routine. Many children find the medication unpleasant and are not even aware of their HIV status. Part of this can be attributed to lapses in communication. For example, it is common practice not to inform children of their HIV status until they reach 13 years of age. Sexual lifestyles are typically frowned upon in Uganda, particularly for women, which contributes to a poor dissemination of sexual related health information.
Research has shown that efforts to improve health and awareness of parents and guardians, as well as the communities, of children with HIV/AIDS could be an effective way to improve treatment. Increased education and awareness can help with communication breakdowns and access to resources. These efforts can also help decrease mother-to-child transmissions.
It is estimated that 91,000 infants are born each year to HIV-positive women. Only 51.6 percent of these women receive any sort of mother-to-child HIV prevention and about 24 percent of all 110,000 new HIV infections in Uganda in 2009 were a result of mother-to-child transmission. A study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a very effective management strategy, in terms of efficacy as well as cost, for prevention of mother-to-child transmissions. In addition, often material support for parents/guardians can be an effective strategy in improving care and treatment of children, including funding for food, clothing, and educational expenses.
To date, most of Uganda’s policies to combat AIDS have focused on abstinence and fidelity, both preventative measures while little action has been taken around youth education. The main tool of this strategy is the controversial ABC campaign (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms). While initially believed to be a successful approach, the effectiveness of this strategy is currently inconclusive as more recent studies have found that increased condom use and deaths have been responsible for the decreases in HIV infections.
Malnutrition plagues much of Uganda’s youth. According to a study by the World Food Programme (WFP), roughly one third of Ugandan children have stunting, a permanent condition resulting from lack of proper nutrition during the first 5 years of life. Consequences of this have been found to be very costly to the Ugandan government and economy, with estimated losses totaling at US $899 million annually, or 5 percent of the country’s GDP.
While many efforts are currently in place in Uganda to distribute vaccinations to children, it is still a very serious health concern. About 2 million deaths each year in Uganda are a result of vaccine preventable diseases. Tuberculosis is one example of these, which was found to be the 4th leading cause of death in Uganda in 2010 according to the CDC. In 2001, it was found that 63% of children less than one year old had either failed to complete their vaccination schedule or not had any vaccinations at all. A 2012 study found that vaccination rates can be improved by providing additional support to mothers to enable them to make use of immunization services.
Traditionally in Uganda, as in most developing countries, open word-burning stoves are commonly used for cooking and to heat homes. It has been estimated that 95 percent of Ugandans rely on wood or charcoal for cooking.
One health issue facing female children specifically in Uganda, as well as many other developing countries is the inability to afford sanitary pads. Besides the obvious health and sanitation concerns, this problem also often has harmful effects on education. Evaluations by the Kasiisi Project, a non-profit organization working in rural Western Uganda, found that girls will often skip school or drop out all together as a result of menstruation and insufficient resources and facilities associated with it.
Road Map campaign
In 2008, Janet Museveni launched the Road Map campaign in an effort to coordinate efforts to lower maternal and neonatal death rates in Uganda.
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