One of the most fulfilling experiences in my career was on a June day in 1999 on the far side of the Niger River in Niamey, Niger, when the President of the Republic launched National Micronutrient Days – enabling over of 80% of children in the country to get a life-saving vitamin A capsule. This was a milestone in an adventure that has transformed child survival in sub-Saharan Africa and it started in one of the poorest countries in the world with one of highest child mortality rates. A photograph from that day has figured in hundreds of presentations I have made since then. Canada was one of the key partners in that amazing event – and today it is moving to sign a $29 million grant with the Canadian International Development Agency that renews Canada’s commitment to saving lives in Africa and supporting one of our flagship programs.
Vitamin A supplementation is the single most cost-effective way to save children’s lives and it has been the pillar of HKI’s programs in Africa as we have expanded to now support national programs in 15 countries reaching over 47 million children every six months. The pioneering efforts taken on by the Government of Niger so long ago have catalyzed a wave of success across Africa – it has changed the goal posts of what we expect in delivering child survival services. There is no more complacency of just reaching children who are within walking distance of a health center – it is no longer acceptable to any government with which we work to deny any child vitamin A supplements and other essential child survival services. Another great source of satisfaction was in 2009 when the Assembly of Health Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States called on all 15 member countries to “Adopt a goal of universal coverage for vitamin A supplementation for children 6-59 months.”
This new grant from Canada allows us to help governments across Africa fulfill that commitment and calls on them to step up their support to cover recurrent costs of delivering these life-saving interventions.