21 December 2015

Bright futures start with healthy children

Miga is doing his homework. He is happier and healthier thanks to REDS
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
Gripping the pen firmly in his small hand, 6-year-old Myagmarbaatar (Miga) carefully writes out numbers from one to ten. He’s doing his homework. “I like to go to school”, he says, smiling cheerfully. “We learned many things at school – yesterday I learned number 7! We are also learning letters”. Miga started school this year, and he couldn’t be more excited about his journey of learning.
Miga lives with his parents, 4-year-old brother Boldo, and 4-month-old sister Azjargal, in a small, dilapidated in Nalaikh district on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.

It’s the coldest capital in the world, with winter temperatures plummeting to -40C, and Miga’s house, without a front door and no money to buy coal to heat it, is often freezing. His family is extremely poor, living in dire conditions, without running water.

Uranjargal, Miga’s mother, is unemployed and stays at home to look after her children. She has a mild mental disability, which makes it harder to find work. Miga’s father, Usukhbayar, was a plumber but he lost his job because of the cuts a few years ago. Until recently, the family had no regular, stable source of income, relying on welfare support and Usukhbayar’s seasonal work at a brick factory.

When the Reach Every District and Soum (REDS) strategy started in Nalaikh last year, the family was identified as at-risk. Chuluuntsetseg, head of Ami-Erdene family clinic, explains “Uranjargal was pregnant at the time, but she was not receiving antenatal care.  The family was living in a very difficult condition, with no food to eat, and as a result, the children were at risk of malnutrition. We made sure that she received care before and during her pregnancy, birth spacing advice and also provided micronutrients for the children, summer strengthening camp, as well as food stamps with support of the khoroo* governor’s office. Also, we provided them with essential medicines for free when their children were sick”.

Boldo (in the back) loves going to kindergarten where he can make friends, learn, and play in safe environment
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
It didn’t stop there. Like almost half the children in Nalaikh, Miga’s little brother Boldo wasn’t going to pre-school because there just aren’t enough places. Early childhood education is key to improving poor children’s well-being, so the khoroo REDS strategy team, made up of the family clinic and the khoroo governor’s office, were determined that Boldo should not miss out. They submitted a special request to the kindergarten management, and Boldo was admitted. “Boldo is really enjoying the kindergarten”, says Usukhbayar.

“The khoroo people helped me get a job as plumber. I am so very thankful for them, because now I can take care of my family better with a stable income. Also, they helped me register my house under my name. Now that I have a job, a house, and my children are well, I have no doubt that our future will be bright!” he adds.
Reaching the unreached

The deprivations endured by children in poor urban communities are alarming and often obscured by broad statistical averages. For children, poverty means being deprived of the basic necessities for a good life, like nutritious food, health care, clean water, education and protection. In Nalaikh district where Miga lives, 42 per cent of the 34,000-strong population live below the poverty line. The under-five mortality rate is 48 per 1,000 live births, in striking contrast to only 11 in Ulaanbaatar.

Chuluuntsetseg, head of Ami-Erdene family clinic explaining the mother and child health situation of different khoroos on the map.
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
To tackle these issues, UNICEF is implementing the REDS strategy in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. This nationwide initiative targets poor people in towns and cities and herder families living in remote areas and helps them access basic health and social welfare services, such as immunization, antenatal and reproductive health care, nutrition supplements, and essential medicines.

“The REDS strategy implementation is really going well in our district”, explains Dr Altantuya, public health specialist at Nalaikh district health centre. “For instance, before, there were only two immunization units in Nalaikh, but now almost all khoroos have immunization units at their family clinics. It helps to increase immunization coverage. Improved access to integrated child health care and the improved nutritional status of children has contributed to a decrease in mortality and sickness among children”.

Poverty and health

Saving children’s lives and improving their health is at the core of UNICEF’s work. Most child deaths are from poverty and the lack of universal basic health care; many of these deaths are preventable. UNICEF supports strategic low-cost, high-impact interventions aimed at reducing preventable child deaths. REDS is one of them.

“The Reaching Every District and Soum strategy identifies the most disadvantaged families, mothers and children, and assists local government to deliver basic health and social protection services to them. Only delivering health service is not sufficient to protect children’s health. Children will not be healthy if the family has no food, fuel, home and stable source of income”, says UNICEF Mongolia health specialist Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu.

“Thanks to the strategy, Nalaikh district has decreased under five child mortality and their hospital admission rate”, she adds.

Usukhbayar, Miga and Uranjargal with baby Azjargal sleeping at the back
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
Healthy children, become healthy adults, who are able to create better lives for themselves, their communities and countries. Across Mongolia, REDS is helping children and their families build the foundations for a brighter future.

*khoroo: the smallest administrative subdivision of Ulaanbaatar.


Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant at UNICEF Mongolia

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