UNICEF ambassador Ma Yili calls for joint efforts to keep every child alive following Africa visit

Ambassador's visit to Kenya comes amid gathering momentum for China-Africa cooperation on maternal and newborn health

07 September 2018
A community member invites UNICEF ambassador Ma Yili to join them during a meeting at Nyahera Village of Kenya's Kisumu County in August 2018. UNICEF works with Kenya's Ministry of Health and its partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding.
UNICEF/China/2018/Xia Yong
A community member invites UNICEF ambassador Ma Yili to join them during a meeting at Nyahera Village of Kenya's Kisumu County in August 2018. UNICEF works with Kenya's Ministry of Health and its partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding.

Beijing, 7 September 2018 – UNICEF ambassador Ma Yili has called for more support to end preventable maternal and newborn deaths through reinforced South-South cooperation following her inaugural trip with UNICEF to Africa.

The five-day trip took the well-known Chinese actress to Kenya's capital Nairobi, as well as Kisumu and Kakamega counties, where she visited hospitals and health centres, met with government officials, health workers and volunteers, and spent time with children and women living in the country's rural areas and informal urban settlements.

A short film documenting the highlights of the visit is released today on UNICEF China's website and on its social media platforms. In the video, Ma expressed the hope that every child in the world will survive and thrive, and called for joint efforts to make this a reality.

Globally, approximately 7,000 newborns die every day, mostly from preventable causes. Among them, 38 per cent are in sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant women are much less likely to receive assistance during delivery due to poverty, conflict and weak institutions.

“In Kenya, I've seen the incredible work that UNICEF and its partners are undertaking, and the progress made in saving mothers and children's lives, but there is still so much more support needed. Through the visit, I learned that the public health system here is still underfunded, understaffed and not well equipped,” Ma Yili said.

In Kenya, UNICEF, alongside the Ministry of Health and its partners, has been improving maternal and child health with access to well-trained health workers and through simple, practical solutions like breastfeeding within the first hour, Kangaroo Mother Care (continuous skin-to-skin contact) and good nutrition. It has also provided hospitals and community health centres with life-saving equipment, including incubators, infant radiant warmers, and the installation of oxygen plant.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has been working to strengthen the capacity of Community Health Workers, an important network across Kenya working to provide health education and services to families who may not otherwise have access to care. Through training, these Community Health Workers are vital in creating demand among mothers and families for health services, as well as linking them to the health system.

The video of Ma Yili's visit is released to coincide with the 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which took place in Beijing, during which eight initiatives for cooperation with African countries were announced, including one on health care.

Ahead of the FOCAC, UNICEF, the National Health Commission of China and the African Union jointly held a session on China-Africa cooperation in maternal and newborn health under the High-Level Meeting on China-Africa Health Cooperation in Beijing. Participants at the meeting made a collective call to increase investment and place maternal, newborn and child health along the continuum of care a key priority in China-Africa cooperation. At FOCAC, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced USD$60 billion of financing to Africa over the next three years, with maternal and child health being one of his priorities.

In a recent meeting with UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, the First Lady of Kenya Margaret Kenyatta welcomed UNICEF's collaboration with Kenya and committed herself to supporting UNICEF's global healthcare interventions for mothers and children.

“Over the past 20 years, millions of children's lives have been saved in China by expanding access to quality primary health care across the country, while it also dramatically reduced maternal mortality,” said UNICEF Representative to China, Rana Flowers. “By expanding South-South cooperation, other developing countries can learn from China's success stories, scale-up what works, and ultimately achieve more impact, and more results, around the world. UNICEF can be a critical partner for China in this journey.”

Ma Yili's visit is also part of UNICEF's campaign ‘Every Child Alive', launched early this year to end the tragedy of preventable newborn and child deaths.

“No matter where they are from – China, Africa or other parts of the world – every child and every woman should have access to quality health care,” Ma said. “As a mother and UNICEF ambassador, I hope we can all work together to ensure that babies and mothers get the life-saving support they need to survive.”

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Sonia Yeo
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Liu Li
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