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Page last updated at 21:44 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Unicef statement

Unicef's chief of media, Christopher de Bono, sent Panorama the following statement in response to questions concerning supplies in Sierra Leone raised by the Panorama programme Addicted to Aid:

Unicef uses the money its donors generously provide to improve the health and the lives of the millions of children around the world who are in desperate need.

In Sierra Leone, the proportion of children who do not live to see their fifth birthday is falling. But Sierra Leone still has the worst under-five mortality rate in the world.

Providing mosquito nets is a very effective means of minimising the chance that children will contract this debilitating disease. There is considerable evidence that making them widely available improves the lives and wellbeing of children.

Cotrimoxazole is on the essential medicines list of most countries and is one of the products in highest demand from Unicef. It is a well-tolerated and cost-effective life-saving intervention for children living with HIV or who have been exposed to HIV.

To help save the lives of children in Sierra Leone, Unicef provides supplies of nets and drugs to the government for distribution.

The government provides quarterly reports on health programme implementation and Unicef regularly conducts spot-check monitoring of distribution. If irregularities are uncovered, Unicef informs the government and it takes action.

Just as important as our monitoring are the programmes Unicef runs and supports to explain to families and communities why it is so important for them to use these medicines and nets effectively.

Our experience tells us that the vast majority of the medicines and nets we provide end up exactly where they are most needed - and improve the lives of children who would otherwise face high risks of life-threatening illnesses. We take all possible steps to avoid these products being used for purposes other than those for which they are intended.

However, because the plight of children in Sierra Leone is so serious, our supply programmes there are very large scale. Since 2003, Unicef has supplied about 900,000 nets and over 700,000 bottles of oral suspension cotrimoxazole to Sierra Leone for free distribution to help children under five and pregnant women.

It is unrealistic to expect that all of the drugs and nets we provide will be used for the purpose for which they are intended. Where the leakage is a result of poor families trading their medicines or nets, the most important thing we can do is redouble our efforts to ensure they understand why these are so important to the health and the lives of their children.

Where we have information about large-scale leakage from our programmes, we investigate and take action. Any such information that is provided to Unicef (or the appropriate authorities) will help save children's lives.

Unicef's priority is to ensure that children have access to the best possible protection and treatment we can provide. Falling infection rates and lower death rates among children are the real test of the effectiveness of our work.

It is our intention, with the assistance of our donors, to continue to provide the maximum possible support to improve the lives of the children of Sierra Leone. The lives of children are at stake.

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