Canada partners with UNICEF to improve reproductive health and nutrition among adolescent girls in Ethiopia

8 March 2018, ADDIS ABABA – On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Government of Canada is pleased to provide CDN$ 14.8 million (US$ 12 million) to UNICEF Ethiopia to improve the reproductive health and nutritional status of adolescent girls. The initiative will reach over four million girls in districts with high food insecurity and a high prevalence of child marriage. It will be implemented between 2018 and 2022.

“As part of our feminist approach, Canada is committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in order to empower women and adolescent girls in Ethiopia and around the world,” says Ivan Roberts, Head of Cooperation at the Embassy of Canada in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, 25 per cent of the population is made up of adolescents (aged 10 to 19 years), of which 11 million are girls.  Adolescent girls experience numerous barriers that hinder them from fully realizing their potential. A significant portion of these barriers is related to their sexual and reproductive health and to their nutrition.

Canada’s contribution will help girls access adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and nutrition facilities by training health workers to clearly understand the physiological and psychological needs of adolescent girls. This initiative will also leverage gender clubs in schools to provide life skills and sexual and reproductive health knowledge to young people. In addition, adolescent-friendly spaces will be created to ensure out-of-school children freely discuss nutrition and sexual and reproductive health issues and practices including family planning.

To improve personal hygiene, the programme will support the local production and supply of sanitary pads, education of girls on pre- and post menstruation, improve sanitary facilities through upgrading and rehabilitation, provide spaces in schools for menstruating girls to rest, enhance counselling and peer-to-peer support, and promote informal discussions among girls on issues that concern them.

“We appreciate the timely support from the Government of Canada which will allow us to address the challenges that Ethiopian adolescent girls face today,” says Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia. “We believe that this contribution will help adolescent girls break out of discriminatory social and gender norms that hamper their education and hinder their ability to meaningfully contribute to their nation’s development.”

UNICEF will use its strong monitoring and evaluation tools to ensure the success of this programme and invest in regular compilation of health and nutrition data to better understand trends and uptake of services by adolescent girls.

World is failing newborn babies, says UNICEF

Babies from the best places to be born up to 50 times less likely to die in the first month of life

NEW YORK, ADDIS ABABA, 20 February 2018 – Global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, UNICEF said today in a new report on newborn mortality. Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.

“While we have more than halved the number of deaths among children under the age of five in the last quarter century, we have not made similar progress in ending deaths among children less than one month old,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director. “Given that the majority of these deaths are preventable, clearly, we are failing the world’s poorest babies.”

Globally, in low-income countries, the average newborn mortality rate is 27 deaths per 1,000 births, the report says. In high-income countries, that rate is 3 deaths per 1,000. Newborns from the riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those from the safest places.

The report also notes that 8 of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions. If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.

Unequal shots at life[1]

Highest newborn mortality rates Lowest newborn mortality rates
1. Pakistan: 1 in 22 1. Japan: 1 in 1,111
2. Central African Republic: 1 in 24 2. Iceland: 1 in 1,000
3. Afghanistan: 1 in 25 3. Singapore: 1 in 909
4. Somalia: 1 in 26 4. Finland: 1 in 833
5. Lesotho: 1 in 26 5. Estonia: 1 in 769
6. Guinea-Bissau: 1 in 26 5. Slovenia: 1 in 769
7. South Sudan: 1 in 26 7. Cyprus: 1 in 714
8. Côte d’Ivoire: 1 in 27 8. Belarus: 1 in 667
9. Mali: 1 in 28 8. Luxembourg: 1 in 667
10. Chad: 1 in 28 8. Norway: 1 in 667
  8. Republic of Korea: 1 in 667

More than 80 per cent of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, the report says. These deaths can be prevented with access to well-trained midwives, along with proven solutions like clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition. However, a shortage of well-trained health workers and midwives means that thousands don’t receive the life-saving support they need to survive. For example, while in Norway there are 218 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 10,000 people, that ratio is 1 per 10,000 in Somalia.

This month, UNICEF is launching Every Child ALIVE, a global campaign to demand and deliver solutions on behalf of the world’s newborns. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, donors, the private sector, families and businesses to keep every child alive by:

  • Recruiting, training, retaining and managing sufficient numbers of doctors, nurses and midwives with expertise in maternal and newborn care;
  • Guaranteeing clean, functional health facilities equipped with water, soap and electricity, within the reach of every mother and baby;
  • Making it a priority to provide every mother and baby with the life-saving drugs and equipment needed for a healthy start in life; and
  • Empowering adolescent girls, mothers and families to demand and receive quality care.

“Every year, 2.6 million newborns around the world do not survive their first month of life. One million of them die the day they are born,” said Ms. Fore. “We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and every newborn. Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

About Ethiopia

 Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa with a total population of 94 million, out of which 13 million are under five years of age. Despite making overall progress in child survival, deaths among newborn babies still remain high. At 29 deaths per 1,000 live births, newborn mortality accounts for 44 per cent of all under five deaths. The new UNICEF report indicates that in 2016 alone, 90,000 newborn babies died in Ethiopia, ranking the country among 10 high burden countries globally.

Recognizing the need to accelerate newborn survival, the Government has put newborn survival at the centre of the Health Sector Development Plan. It has developed the Newborn and Child Survival Strategy (2015-2020) to strengthen the capacity of the health system and the skills of health workers to deliver quality health care to every mother and newborn baby. This includes the provision of quality antenatal care, skilled delivery, essential newborn care, postnatal care and neonatal intensive care for sick neonates.

UNICEF’s support to the newborn care programme includes;

  • Antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, child care;
  • Health posts, health centres, and tertiary level hospitals; and
  • Integrated management of neonatal and childhood illnesses, immunization, community-based neonatal care, newborn care corners, and neonatal intensive care units.

UNICEF will continue to support the Ministry of Health to expand the availability of essential newborn care in the 800 health centers across the country, establish Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in hospitals, and strengthen the link between community-based and facility-based maternal, newborn, and child health programmes.


UNICEF and UNFPA to speed up their efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2018 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF and UNFPA in Ethiopia commit to accelerate their joint efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C.

Given the rising number of girls at risk, the two agencies believe that with increased investment and redoubled political commitment, with greater community engagement and more empowered women and girls, it is a race that can be won.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that female genital mutilation undermines progress towards a more equal, just, and prosperous world. They set an ambitious target of eliminating all such harmful practices against girls and women by 2030.  UNICEF and UNFPA globally devoted the theme of the year 2018 – “Ending Female Genital Mutilation is a political decision” – to engaging government bodies and policy makers to join efforts.

In Ethiopia, the Government expressed its commitment to ending FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit in 2014 and committed itself to reducing the practice to 0.5 per cent by 2020 in the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Government has also taken key programmatic actions which include  endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children as well as establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. 

“To accelerate the elimination of the practice , we need to work at grassroots level, at scale and hand-in-hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders –  to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop. “We also believe that it is important to address the health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C by providing the necessary health services to help survivors lead a healthy life,” she said.

“We have seen that rates of female genital mutilation can drop rapidly in places where the issue is taken on wholeheartedly by governments, by communities, by families. Where social norms are confronted, village by village. Where medical professionals come together to oppose the practice, where laws are enacted to make it a crime and where those laws are enforced. Where wider access to health, education and legal services ensure sustainable change. Where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard,” said Ms. Bettina Maas, UNFPA representative to Ethiopia.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey shows a declining  trend in FGM/C from 74 per cent in 2005 to 65 per cent in 2015  in the age group 15-49 years, and from 62.1 per cent to 47 per cent  in the 15-19 year old age group. The survey also shows a more significant decrease in the younger age cohort compared to the older: prevalence is 75 per cent in the age group 35-49 years, 59 per cent in the 20-24 year age group, and 47 per cent in the age group 15-19 years. FGM/C prevention and care Afar

UNICEF and UNFPA have been working  together for many years in Ethiopia on programmes to end FGM/C. One such programme is in the Afar Region which has recently been expanded to the SNNP region. The programme has a social mobilization component which aims to increase community knowledge and change attitudes towards the practice through religious and clan leaders as well as youth and adolescent girls who convene community dialogues. Tailored messages through radio and television also reach a wider audience.

UNICEF and UNFPA also work together to improve enforcement of the law through increasing legal literacy, strengthening special units in the law enforcement bodies, and supporting community level surveillance in tracking cases of FGM/C for better reporting and management of cases. The programme has facilitated the declaration of abandonment of the practice in 6 districts in Afar Region. 

Globally, the prevalence of FGM/C has declined by nearly a quarter since around 2000. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end female genital mutilation, girls are one third less likely to undergo this harmful practice today than they were in 1997. More than 25 million people in some 18,000 communities across 15 countries have publicly disavowed the practice since 2008.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

48,000 babies to be born on New Year’s Day in Eastern and Southern Africa

NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG/ADDIS ABABA, 1 January 2018:  Approximately 48,000 babies will be born in the Eastern and Southern Africa region on New Year’s Day, UNICEF said today, as the UN Children’s Fund asked nations around the region to make sure more newborns survive their first days of life.

In 2016, an estimated 2,600 children around the world died within the first 24 hours, every day of the year. Across that same year, 136,000 newborns died in Ethiopia and The United Republic of Tanzania combined, placing them in fifth and ninth position, respectively, among the ten countries with the highest neonatal deaths in the world. Among those children, more than 80 per cent of all newborn deaths are due to preventable and treatable causes such as premature birth, complications during delivery, and infections like sepsis and pneumonia. 


“This New Year, UNICEF’s resolution is to help give every child more than an hour, more than a day, more than a month – more than survival,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director in Eastern and Southern Africa. “We call on governments and partners to maintain and expand their efforts to save millions of children’s lives by providing proven, low-cost solutions.”

UNICEF says that babies born in Eastern and Southern Africa will account for 12 per cent of the estimated 386,000 babies to be born globally on New Year’s Day.  Almost 58 per cent of these births will take place in five countries within the region, with the largest number of births on New Year’s Day projected for Ethiopia:

  • Ethiopia 9,023
  • The United Republic of Tanzania 5,995
  • Uganda 4,953
  • Kenya 4,237
  • Angola 3,417

Over the past two decades, the world has seen unprecedented progress in child survival, halving the number of children worldwide who die before their fifth birthday to 5.6 million in 2016. But despite these advances, there has been slower progress for newborns. Babies dying in the first month account for 46 per cent of all deaths among children under five.

In 2016, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 38 per cent of all newborn deaths. Despite stark improvements in child survival within the continent, child mortality remains high and important challenges need to be met to accommodate the projected increase in births and prevent African countries with high fertility rates from falling further below international benchmarks for maternal, newborn and child care.

Chief among them is to vastly expand systems and interventions for maternal, newborn and child health. The scale of this challenge should not be underestimated. From 2015 to 2050, some 1.8 billion babies are projected to be born in Africa – 700 million more than were born in the preceding 35-year period (1980-2014). Ensuring that these births are attended by skilled professionals and that new mothers have adequate care and attention before, during and after childbirth represents an immense and unprecedented challenge.

Next month, UNICEF will launch Every Child Alive, a global campaign to demand and deliver affordable, quality health care solutions for every mother and newborn. These include a steady supply of clean water and electricity at health facilities, the presence of a skilled health attendant during birth, disinfecting the umbilical cord, breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, and skin-to-skin contact between the mother and child.

“We are now entering the era when all the world’s newborns should have the opportunity to see the 22nd Century,” Leila Pakkala. “Unfortunately, nearly half of the children born this year likely won’t. We can all do more.”

MIND THE GAP – BABYWASH Launched on World Toilet Day to Improve Integrated Early Childhood Development in Ethiopia

By Samuel Godfrey

When you travel in a car through Addis Ababa, you will note that adult women and men vary greatly in height. There are tall people and short people. So which ones of these are actually stunted? And why? Scientifically stunting is defined as a reduced growth rate in human development and is a primary manifestation of malnutrition or more accurately under nutrition. The definition of stunting according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is for the “height for age” value to be less than two standard deviations of the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

So how does under nutrition occur? Recent scientific evidence suggests that under nutrition is a result of recurrent infections such as diarrhoea or helminthiasis in early childhood and even before birth. In 2016, UNICEF Ethiopia, published a blog entitled BABY WASH – the missing piece of the puzzle[1]?, in which evidence from a paper published by UNICEF and John Hopkins University in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health[2] highlighted the need to target interventions to reduce unsafe practices of disposal of baby and child faeces. To convert this evidence into action, the Government of Ethiopia, UNICEF and partners have developed a BABYWASH implementation guideline. The guideline aims at contributing to improving Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) through improving the baby and child environment.

World Toilet Day 2017: safe disposal of child faeces
Lack of knowledge on the health risk related to child faeces is a key factor behind poor hygiene practices in faeces disposal. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Mulugeta Ayene

The 2017 World Toilet Day was a perfect opportunity to launch the BABYWASH guideline. The document includes guidance on how to implement programmes with safe disposal of child faeces, providing protective environments through play mats and similar measures as well as prevention of soil transmitted helminths. The strategy was endorsed for implementation alongside regular safe sanitation and hygiene practices which are already being promoted by health extension workers. In his statement, H.E Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health of Ethiopia said, “In Ethiopia, there is a common misconception that children’s faeces are not harmful while evidence shows otherwise. The current sanitation and hygiene promotion efforts, at times, overlook safe disposal of children’s faeces. In addition, most toilets are not designed keeping children’s special needs in mind. Hence, I am proud to endorse the Baby WASH manual today which was developed by the Federal Ministry of Health with the support of UNICEF and other partners in order to ensure a healthy environment for children’s growth and development especially those under three years of age.”

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia on her part said, “UNICEF is pleased to support the Ministry of Health in preparing these excellent guidelines on Baby WASH. We know that a contaminated environment harms infants and young children and puts them at risk of increased child mortality and stunting. Together, we have to ensure that parents and guardians, teachers and community leaders are aware of the importance of Baby WASH.”

According to the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) baseline survey on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene carried out in eight regions of Ethiopia, there is a general misconception about child faeces disposal. The survey showed that a lack of knowledge on the health risk related to child faeces is a key factor behind poor hygiene practices in faeces disposal. According to the survey, only half (49 per cent) of women knew that child faeces are dangerous to health. Misconception is higher among rural pastoralist women where only 39 per cent said child faeces are dangerous as compared with 50 per cent among rural non-pastoralist women and 54 per cent of women in urban areas. Although it may not be clear who is stunted and who is not just by looking at a child, it’s clear that safe disposal of child faeces helps improve a child’s health. Therefore, UNICEF will continue to support the Government with the implementation of the guideline throughout the country.



Children Takeover Minister Roles as Ethiopia celebrates World Children’s Day and UNICEF Ethiopia’s 65th Anniversary

20 November 2017, United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa: Today, Ethiopia joined the global World Children’s Day celebrations by giving children high profile roles to become champions of their rights. In line with the event’s theme ‘For children, By children’ child parliamentarians took over the roles of the Ministers of: Women and Children’s Affairs; Health; Education; Water, Irrigation and Electricity; Labour and Social Affairs; and Urban Works and Construction. In addition, children took over the roles of the Attorney General and UNICEF Representative. In their new roles as ‘shadow Ministers’, children shared their ideas on issues that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Sara Beshir shadow Minister of Women and Children Affairs. Her message on World Children’s Day: attitudes towards violence angst children and women need to be changed. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

At the event, which was truly owned by children, some of the key recommendations proposed by children include:

  • Accelerate efforts to end harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
  • Provide clean water and sanitation services for all children across the country, no matter where they live
  • Build more hospitals that are focused on child health and ensure health professionals treat children with care and love
  • Involve children in child justice
  • Ensure quality education for all children through skilled teachers, including pre-primary education
  • Ensure that girls stay in school and finish their education
  • Provide more playgrounds and safe spaces, especially in urban and peri-urban settings
  • Include children’s voices when adults and local authorities discuss issues that affect children’s lives.

Child parliamentarians from different regions also had an opportunity to discuss issues relevant to children in Ethiopia with shadow Ministers and dignitaries through a Q&A session.

In her opening remarks, H.E Ms Demitu Hambisa, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, stated that this year’s World Children’s Day is a day of action for children by children. She highlighted that decision makers need to ensure that children’s voices are heard and reflected in decisions that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Minister of Women and Children Affairs , Ms Demitu Hambisa speaking during World Children’s Day. She says; listening to children’s voices and involving them in decision making is key. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, emphasising the need for the participation of children said, “Meaningful participation of children is not only a fundamental right – and enshrined as such in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but is also key to ensuring that decisions made by adults are relevant to the actual needs of children.”

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia speaking on World Children’s Day. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

In addition, UNICEF Ethiopia launched its publication ‘Hulem Lehisanat- Always for children’ depicting its 65 years history serving children and women in Ethiopia.

The event highlighted the importance of including children’s voices by providing children with an opportunity to share their own solutions on how to keep every child in Ethiopia healthy, well-nourished, in school and protected.