Reflection on “Child Mortality in Eritrea- an Overview of History and Progress”
By - Simon Weldemichael
On Friday, April 21, in an event organized by the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Eritrea and the PFDJ office for Institutions of Higher Education, Dr. Fikreyesus’s book “Child Mortality in Eritrea- an overview of history and progress” was celebrated and introduced to Eritrean readers. The event was attended by students from Orotta College of Medicine and Health Science, College of Engineering and College of Sciences. At the event reflections on the book were presented by Chinese embassy officials and by Eritreans.
In his opening speech, China’s Ambassador Cai Ge had this to say about the author and the book: “Being a representative of Eritrea’s excellent young generation, Dr. Fikreyesus illustrated in his book, Child Mortality in Eritrea, the achievements of Eritrea in lowering child mortality rate with informative data. I believe this book will help us to better understand Eritrea’s health care system.” Expressing his good wishes for the strengthening of China-Eritrea relations, Ambassador Cai Ge added that “young generations in both countries shoulder a great mission in nation building and development of China- Eritrea relations and have bright prospects in accomplishing great things.”
Dr. Fikreyesus, on his part, said his book will serve as a foundation for future writers. Hoping his contribution would fill the existing gap he pointed out that “although child mortality has been a popular topic of research and scholarship globally, Eritrea’s child mortality story has largely gone unrecognized.”
Representing the PFDJ for Institutions of Higher Education, Mr. Lul Fissehaye expressed his appreciation for the Chinese embassy and the author for their initiative to bring the book to the attention of Eritrean readers. He advised young students to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Fikreyesus. Then, I shared my reflection on the book at the event. Here is the abridged form of my reflection.
Bill Gates is reported in the book to have described the chart that shows the sharp decline in child mortality globally as ‘the most beautiful chart in the world.” I have been so impressed with the book that I have the audacity to say it is one of the most interesting and informative books I have read on Eritrea. The book is also quite different in that it popularizes the silent revolution taking place in Eritrea against a different type of an enemy– diseases and poverty — and gives extensive report on the silent but salient victory — health security.
The 167 pages book is organized into six chapters, which are rich in content that is substantiated with 54 illustrative figures and eight tables. The author’s skillful presentation of statistical data and interpretation are amazing. The content, organization, and presentation of the book bear witness to the author’s hardworking sprit, acquisitive mind, sharp observation, and unclenched dedication. The book helps readers to travel across a vast terrain of science of humanities and nature. When I read the book, I came to understand that infant/child mortality is not only about the death of a person but also the death of an economy, the future, and human beings’ right to life, happiness, and dignity.
The benefit of the book to Eritrea is self-evident, but the book is also important to the rest of the global community because it provides important information and analysis that adds to human intelligence. The publication, distribution, and discussion of the book may help bridge the deplorable gap between the negative narrative on Eritrea that is out there and the actual reality on the ground. Noam Chomsky has once said that ‘it is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.’ Dr. Fikreyesus has assumed responsibility as an intellectual and through his labour has corrected many wrongs that have harmful effects on the national image of Eritrea.
Eritrea’s share of child mortality in the world is declining and is being replaced by a rise in the number of healthy children. Despite the acclaimed victory of humanity, “the global burden of child deaths-standing at approximately five million in the year 2020- remains immense.” For Eritrea, the death of one child is too many.
In his book, Dr. Fikreyesus doesn’t treat Eritrea in isolation. He tells Eritrea’s story in relation to the paces and rates of child mortality in the world. But his book is basically about Eritrea, a 32-year-old young sovereign country that has subsistence economy and has been confronted with innumerable challenges, including military aggression and unjust international sanctions.
The book covers child mortality in Eritrea from 1950 when almost a third of the under-five children had died before celebrating their fifth birthday. In 1991, when Eritrea got the hard-won independence, under-five mortality rate was 146 deaths/1000 births. After three decades of hard and persistent struggle against preventable diseases, under-five mortality rate dropped to 39 deaths/1000 births. Putting it into a better context, the author wrote, “Consider that Eritrea’s under-five mortality rate in 1991 (146) was among the highest within all of Sub Sahara Africa (SSA). In stark contrast, by 2020, when Eritrea’s child mortality had been reduced to about 39, the country’s rate was among the lowest in SSA (which had a regional average of 74 in 2020). Considering the pace and rate of reduction in child mortality that Eritrea has achieved, one would proclaim with confidence that it will achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal target for child mortality by 2030.
The book discusses at length the factors driving child mortality reduction in Eritrea. It begins by discussing the political will and commitment of the government and goes on to discuss the values of initiatives taken to promote public health through the provision of vaccination, antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, malaria prevention and control, and education of women. Referring to the high rates of infant mortality in pre-modern world, the author explained that “a newborn was more of an ‘it’ until it could prove itself capable of some viability.” This reminds me of a popular Tigrigna proverb that goes ‘never claim your son/daughter before he/she is past measles.’ It’s not hard to imagine the grief experienced by Eritrean mothers. The book sheds a two-pronged light — one directed to the past to reveal the pain and hopelessness prevalent back then and another to the future that is characterized by happiness and healthy life.
Eritrea’s overall development endeavours depend to a large degree on the progress it makes towards achieving the targets of SDGs related to children. The situational analysis and future projections of Eritrea’s development would be incomplete without paying attention to children and women.
The event to celebrate the book and introduce it to Eritrean readers was concluded by the handing over of thirty books to PFDJ office for Institutions of Higher Education and watching a popular Chinese science fiction film “The Wandering Earth.”