Jessica Luckett is a U.S. Fund for UNICEF Program Office intern.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with UNICEF Uganda Deputy Representative, May Anyabolu. Anyabolu gave a passionate presentation about Uganda‚Äôs history of conflict, the realities of everyday life, and UNICEF programs and initiatives in the country.
According to a recent World Bank report, Uganda has both the world‚Äôs youngest population and the highest youth unemployment rate. Currently, children under 18 years of age account for 54% of Uganda‚Äôs overall population. Two decades of war, massive displacement and widespread HIV/AIDS infections and deaths have contributed to this unique statistic. Additionally, the conflict between the government and the Lord‚Äôs Resistance Army has created a large population of orphans and other vulnerable children, including former child soldiers. Uganda‚Äôs population has also been steadily growing each year, with nearly 1.5 million babies born in 2011.
UNICEF, its partners, and the Ugandan Government have introduced various innovative programs to meet the needs of children, youth and women in Uganda. Education is just one example. Although Uganda has one of the best primary school enrollment rates in Africa, in some regions only 9% of those enrolled actually graduate, and only 50.2% of all graduated students leave school with the appropriate literacy skills. UNICEF has created programs to reduce the drop-out rates, reach children in Uganda‚Äôs most isolated areas and establish youth networking organizations.¬†The installation of Digital Drums‚ÄĒrugged computers made from locally available oil drums‚ÄĒhas served as a way to promote sustainability and make youth-friendly content, information, games and reading materials accessible to young people.¬†UNICEF’S Digital Drum¬†was¬† chosen as one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2011.
UNICEF Uganda is also using innovation to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, which threatens the progress that has been made in reducing child mortality. The majority of infected mothers are not receiving medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and infected children are not receiving lifesaving drugs that can extend their life expectancy rate.
Uganda‚Äôs Ministry of Health (MOH) in partnership with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department for International Development (DFID), is also actively supporting mTrac, a nationwide SMS-based disease surveillance and medicine tracking system. SMS messaging and mobile phone ownership is extremely popular in Uganda. The initiative seeks to utilize the popularity of mobile messaging as an opportunity to strengthen the existing Health Management Information Systems with accurate inventory estimates, and to improve accountability and governance. Through mTrac, community health workers, drug recipients, and everyday citizens can text a hotline to report theft, corruption and shortages. The best aspect of the program is that the messaging is free and anonymous!
Today, 5,000 health facilities and 8,000 medicine-distributing village health workers are using mTrac for their work. The mTrac initiative will also help increase the number of birth registrations and birth certificates. A birth registration is the starting point for the recognition and protection of every child‚Äôs fundamental right to identity.
The Digital Drum and mTrac are only two of the many innovations UNICEF Uganda is using to save, protect and empower children, youth and women in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible.