By Liz Busisa
Child health, as the World Health Organization defines, is a state of physical, mental, intellectual, social and emotional well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Healthy children live in families, environments, and communities that provide them with the opportunity to reach their fullest developmental potential. From the definition by the World Health Organization (WHO), child health is not limited within the confines of absence of diseases. This implies that a child might be healthy and yet at the same time not be healthy as per the standards of the WHO, if his mental, intellectual, social and emotional needs are not fully met as per the required standards so as to accord him a full development potential. The question that arises right now is; are there adequate policies and laws on child health and if not what are the recommendations?
In Kenya, the government has introduced new policies as well as initiatives such as Free Maternity Services, Elimination of User Fee for Primary Care and the Beyond Zero campaign which are aimed at improving maternal and child health. Kenya has shown encouraging improvements in reproductive and child health outcomes over the period 2003-2014. There has been a decrease in the infant mortality rate from 52 to 39 per 1,000 live births, and a decrease in the under-five mortality rate from 74 to 52 per 1,000 live births which is as per the report made by the Ministry of Health in 2016 (KENYA REPRODUCTIVE, MATERNAL, NEWBORN, CHILD AND ADOLESCENT HEALTH (RMNCAH) INVESTMENT FRAMEWORK). In addition the Ministry of Health has spearheaded the development of several policies and strategies that contribute to the nationwide strengthening of Kenya’s Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health (MNCH) programme. Some of these policies include National Reproductive Health Policy, the National Reproductive Health Strategy and the Child Survival and Development Strategy.
In addition to that there are a variety of laws in Kenya that promote Child health starting with the Constitution itself to the Children Act which brings forth the best interest principle. This principle states that, all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of children shall be a primary consideration. There are other numerous subsidiary legislations that deal with adoption and other matters that are crucial to children, bearing in mind that child health is not gauged by absence or presence of illness but by other factors such as psychological and emotional factors.
In South Africa children account for just over a third of the population of nearly 55 million people. The South African government, in catering for Child health, has come up with policies such as a Strategic Plan for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Women’s Health (MNCWH) with the aim of reducing the maternal mortality ratio and neonatal, infant and child mortality rates. The importance of children has also been recognised through the inclusion of early childhood development (ECD) planning in documents relating to the National Departments of Health, Education and Social Development. The only problem however is that there is no indication of how policy will be implemented. Another key policy is the National Programme of Action for Children which provides a framework for Child and Maternal Health, Early Childhood Development and Basic Education and finally child protection measures among others.
In the United States of America there are numerous policies to cater for child health such as the American Public Health Association Child Health Policy which is positioned to; a) provide guidance for federal agencies implementing programs and providing services for children and families, b) support legislative efforts to improve children’s health, c) improve the public’s understanding about comprehensive child health and health care and d) Promote societal support and sufficient funding for comprehensive children’s health programs and services. In addition to that many scholars, professors and agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, write down policies which are implemented so as to cater for Child health and children at large until they reach the age of majority. In addition, there are numerous laws, both state and federal, that protect children from abuse and neglect and other factors that are injurious to children’s health. Practically the USA has the best laws and policies that cater for Children. More so, there are many active watch bodies that act as an eye to ensure optimum child health.
In the United Kingdom there are policies and laws similar to the once mentioned above. The focus and aim is the challenges that face Child health and the policies put in place. Some of these challenges include; poverty, corruption, lack of proper education and other factors.
My recommendations in addressing the formulation and implementing child health policies takes a practicality approach where true to the fact numerous policies and laws are present which fulfills by 90% the theoretical aspect towards child health, the practical aspect has however not been catered for and if catered for, it has been minimal. The Government together with respective agencies in Kenya and other parts of the world should go back to the drawing board and ensure that poverty (economic status) is dealt with through sustainable development schemes, provision of funding both grants and loans and educate the people at large. Poor educational status and unemployment rate needs to be dealt with too. That way all the needs that are a requisite for proper child health will be dealt with hence the true meaning of proper Child health as per the WHO definition will come into effect. As has been shown above, the government is only emphasizing on the physical aspect and not other aspects such as the emotional, psychological and social aspects hence the same needs to be looked at and reviewed again.
Liz Busisa is a Child and Legal Policy reporter at Mtoto News
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