Pitch in to prevent tragedy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 November, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong children always complain about too much homework and too many tests and extra-curricular activities. But these so-called hardships pale in comparison to the fact that a child dies of hunger or disease every three seconds in Africa.

Tomorrow is Universal Children's Day, which promotes children's well-being and helps raise awareness of children living in poverty. According to World Vision, about 9 million children die before their fifth birthday every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented if governments showed more commitment to ending this terrible tragedy.

Dr Sri Chander, World Vision's health adviser for the Asia-Pacific, was in Hong Kong last month to share his vision about helping children around the world. Most child deaths can be attributed to ignorance and poverty, says Chander. He called for more education, especially among women, to stop children from dying at a very young age.

'People do not know how to take care of themselves and their children,' he said. 'In places where food is scarce, it is a tradition for women to eat less, threatening the life of both the mother and her baby. They see this as a survival strategy, but this is a vicious cycle as women who are malnourished give birth to unhealthy babies.'

Chander pointed out a tragic case of malnourished children in the jungles of Indonesia. 'I visited a village there that is full of food resources, with farmlands and rivers for fishing, but yet the children are malnourished,' he said. 'After looking into the matter, I found the kids are being fed only twice a day because their parents have to go to work. I advised them to form a group of 10 households, with one mother staying behind every day to cook and feed the children.'

Chander says the lives of millions of children can be saved with five low-cost health solutions. 'A mosquito net which costs US$5 will save children from malaria. Oral rehydration, which costs a few cents, will prevent deaths caused by diarrhoea. Basic immunisation for a child costs around US$10. The other two measures are educating the mother to breast-feed and having skilled attendants when women give birth,' he said.

Percy Leung Pok-lai, a Year 12 student from Yew Chung International School, was moved by Chander's speech and pledged to help the needy. 'I plan to give HK$200 to HK$300 a month and use Facebook to tell my friends about the situation and urge them to chip in,' he said.

In 2000, world leaders signed the 'United Nations Millennium Development Goals', pledging to reduce the mortality rate of children below the age of five by two-thirds by 2015. But they have only achieved a 30 per cent success rate so far.

World Vision is asking students to sign the joint declaration, calling on all governments to help meet the target. It is hoped that 100,000 signatures will be collected before the end of the year.

For details, visit www.worldvision.org.hk/eng/giveme5