86 children died in Kenya yesterday
It's the morning of March 31, 2010.
The sound of happy chit-chat and the smell of freshly brewed coffee fill the air of a hotel meeting room in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Colleagues and comrades sit around white-draped breakfast tables and—in between mouthfuls of bacon and eggs—catch up on the latest happenings in their neck of the woods. An announcement from the podium interrupts the cheerful banter. “86 children died in Kenya yesterday.” Silence engulfs the room. Quizzical looks are exchanged. “Was it in the news?” some seemed to ask. “Oh no, not another school bus accident,” others lament.
The Master of Ceremonies proceeded to give the grim reality that Kenya loses over 27,000 children to diarrhoea every year and that diarrhoea kills more children than malaria, AIDS, and measles combined. With this announcement, the stage was set for the day's occasion—the launch of Kenya's policy guidelines on the management and control of diarrhoeal diseases for children under five.
The list of attendees was impressive, befitting such an important occasion. The guest list read like a roster of the “who is who” in health-related organizations and institutions, both locally and internationally. The Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation was also very well represented, not only by high-ranking officials, but also by programme officers who would be the actual implementers of these guidelines.
What was even more impressive than the guest list and the number of attendees (we had well over 100 people!) was the sense of unison. As speaker after speaker took to the stage, there was one clear message: Far too many children die due to this preventable disease and that this trend has to be stopped!
To capture this event was a battery of journalists. At one point, there were close to seven TV cameras positioned right in front of the podium, even obscuring the view of many guests. But this was a good problem to have. (Hoping, of course, they reported the news accurately, and thankfully they did!)
With the policy launched and the message of the country's revamped campaign against diarrhoea now in public domain, the “real work” of ensuring that these guidelines are implemented has begun in earnest. As the function concluded and the people dispersed, a select few gathered round a table to plan the next launch, this time at the provincial level. Aluta continua!