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Ethiopia Cuts Child Deaths by Two-Thirds


A mother quenches her child while waiting for food at a health center in Eastern Ethiopia.

A mother quenches her child while waiting for food at a health center in Eastern Ethiopia.


Hello again, and welcome to As It Is from VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember in Washington.

Hundreds of thousands of children become infected with the AIDS virus every year. Today on the program, we report on the discovery of a protein in breast milk that may protect babies against the human immunodeficiency virus, also called HIV.

But first, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund recently praised Ethiopia for reaching one of the Millennium Development Goals on child survival. UNICEF officials say Ethiopia has reduced its number of child deaths by more than two-thirds. Faith Lapidus has more.

Ethiopia Cuts Child Deaths by Two-Thirds

Between 1990 and 2012, the country reported a 67 percent drop in the number of children dying before the age of five. Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, Kesetebirhan Admasu, welcomed the good news. But he admitted that even with the improvement, Ethiopia is considered a high-mortality country.

“If you look at the absolute number of children dying in Ethiopia, it is still, you know, huge. You know, we have committed to end all preventable child deaths in a generation by 2035. And, we have developed a roadmap to, you know, reach that ambitious target.”

Diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria are the leading causes of death among young children in Ethiopia. In 1990, the country’s death rate for children under five was one of the highest in the world. It was 204 deaths for every 1,000 births. The rate is now at 68 per 1,000. This means that hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian children who might have died in earlier years now reach their fifth birthday.

Ethiopia is one of four African countries to have reached a Millennium Development Goal. The other three are Liberia, Malawi and Tanzania.

One of the reasons for Ethiopia’s success is its Health Extension Program. Because of it, 38,000 people were employed to bring health care services to a large part of the rural population. Peter Salama is UNICEF’s representative to Ethiopia. He says Ethiopia’s plan of action can serve as an example for other countries.

“Several other African countries have come to do study tours, including delegations from Togo, Guinea, Namibia, I believe, all came to study the health extension program and to see how they could replicate this critical lesson of bringing health care to the doorstep of the rural population.”

The United Nations first announced the Millennium Development Goals 13 years ago. The goals were meant to help countries pay more attention to issues such as fighting extreme poverty.

Progress on the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child deaths is slow in most countries. Only 13 of 61 countries are in a position to meet the goal.

I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember in Washington. You are listening to As It Is, from VOA Learning English.

Now, we turn to a medical discovery that could help protect babies against HIV, the virus responsible for the disease AIDS.
Here is June Simms.

Protein in Mother’s Milk May Protect Babies Against HIV

Scientists have discovered a protein in breast milk that may protect babies against the human immunodeficiency virus, also called HIV.

Scientists have discovered a protein in breast milk that may protect babies against the human immunodeficiency virus, also called HIV.

​Hundreds of thousands of children become infected with the AIDS virus every year. These boys and girls are born to mothers who have HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. Infection takes place during pregnancy or from breastfeeding.

Recently, scientists identified a protein in breast milk that suppresses the virus. The protein may even protect babies from becoming infected. Now, experts say the discovery could lead to new ways to protect babies whose mothers are infected with HIV.

To prevent infection, doctors give antiretroviral drugs to both mothers and their babies. That has greatly reduced the number of infections.

But experts say that even without anti-AIDS drugs, only a small percentage of babies become infected through breast milk. Sallie Permar is a professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke University in North Carolina. She says breast-fed babies appear to resist infection.

“It is actually remarkable that despite the infant being exposed to the virus multiple times daily for up to two years of their life, actually only 10 percent of those babies will become infected.”

The low rate of infection was of great interest to researchers, including Sallie Permar. She led an effort to identify a substance in breast milk that may protect babies from infection. Her team directed its attention to a protein called Tenacin-C, also called TNC. It is known to be involved in the process of healing wounds. But what purpose it serves in breast milk is not known.

The researchers exposed the TNC protein from breast milk of uninfected women to HIV. The protein linked up to the virus and made it harmless.

Antiretroviral drugs remain effective in limiting the passing of HIV from mother to baby. But Professor Permar and her team suggest that TNC could be used in places where costly drug treatments are often not available.

“The issues are access to the drugs as well as monitoring. There are issues of toxicity and anti-retroviral drug resistance. And so we think alternative strategies may be needed to completely eliminate infant transmission.”

She suggests that TNC could be given to babies before breastfeeding to provide additional protection against HIV. She adds that the protein is safe because it is already a natural part of human milk. This may avoid the problem of HIV becoming resistant to antiretroviral drugs.

The team reported its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

I’m June Simms.

And that’s our program for today. Be sure to join us at this same time tomorrow as Karen Leggett reports on methods to help farmers protect their soil and crops from damage.

I’m Steve Ember. Thanks for listening!


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