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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Trying to save Libya's children
As the United Nations gathers to discuss anti-poverty measures, the BBC News website assesses how Africa could meet the Millennium Goals in 10 years' time. Here, Rana Jawad looks at what Libya is doing to reduce the rate of child death.

Children's paintings on display in Tripoli's high commission for children.
Libyans are more likely to survive childhood than other Africans
Libya is considered to be well ahead of many African countries in its education and health sectors, but all countries are expected to reduce their infant mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.

Tripoli's public children's hospital, Jalah, is reported to offer the best child health care services in the country.

One mother coming out of the hospital, who did not want to be named, said she was very satisfied with the treatment her son received.

"In terms of the standard of health care, thank God, I didn't face any difficulties in this hospital. They treated my son and the service was good, there were no problems."

At first glance, the mortality rate of children in Libya is low compared to other African countries.

According to the latest United Nations statistics, 13 children die for every 1,000 live births, making it Africa's best performer in this regard.

Immunisation

Dr Naheema Zgheir is the assistant coordinator at the high commission for children, an inter-governmental organisation in Tripoli.

Dr Zgheir feels that one of the key formulas for maintaining low infant mortality rates in Libya is immunisation.

INFANT MORTALITY IN AFRICA
Libya: 13 deaths before age one per 1,000 live births
South Africa: 53
Zimbabwe: 78
Nigeria: 98
Ethiopia: 112
Niger: 154
Source: UNDP
"Families are very concerned with the issue of vaccination. But there was something missing.

"This led the country to start a vaccination campaign that lasted from the beginning of this year until March. The goal was to vaccinate all the children in the country, both Libyans and non-Libyans alike."

But she feels that more still needs to be done.

"We need to raise awareness. There needs to be an education programme for mothers, to learn how to best to take care of their children from the day they are born, to prevent any death from occurring within the first year."

One mother I spoke to applauded child health care services but felt that more specialised children's hospitals were needed.

"Sometimes you feel they get overcrowded. For example, if you go into a room and find 10 sick children, and if they have transferable diseases, it worsens the problem rather than lessening it.

Cancer

There is a lack of data when it comes to identifying the leading causes of infant deaths, but there was one attempt in 1995 by Dr Adel Tajuri, a paediatrician.

Dr Adel Tajuri, a paediatrician
There are no specific programmes by the health sector itself setting out the priorities
Dr Adel Tajuri
His independent research showed that cancer and roadside accidents were the leading causes of death amongst children over one year of age in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city.

But Dr Tajuri said the study was too small for the government to take any action as a result.

"It was done only in one city and it was personal work. It was not really published or accepted by the government. So, there was really no action done according to this research.

He also points out that reducing child mortality means involving more than the health ministry - it also covers the sectors of education, agriculture, and traffic.

Despite Libya's relatively low infant mortality rate, the country's health sector needs a proper plan, to further reduce the rate, if it wants to meet its Millennium Development Goal.

Increase

Dr Tajuri says more planning is needed, or it will be hard to further reduce the numbers.

LIBYAN CHILD HEALTH
7% of mothers received no health-care during pregnancy and delivery in 2002-2003
20.2% of married women are illiterate
Average number of births for woman: 5.2
44% of married women use family planning
71% of children, aged 12-23 months vaccinated
31 children per 1,000 live births die by the age of five
Source: Libyan Arab Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, featuring 11142 households:
"There are no specific programmes by the health sector itself setting out the priorities... and then to evaluate this a few years after, to see if the programme which has already been implemented was successful or not."

Experts agree that the political commitment to educate women, and the wide distribution of health care facilities in urban and rural areas, led to a sharp fall in infant mortality since the 1970s.

But statistics show the mortality rate of children under five has slightly increased since 1995.

To reduce the rate even further, Libya's health sector will need to create programmes that identify and stamp out the causes of death.




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