Oman has come a long way in child, women welfare, new study finds
July 16, 2017 | 8:56 PM
by ONA
Research by NCSI and UNICEF on children and women has found that Oman has already achieved the fourth Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality besides improving the status of women. File photo used for illustrative purposes only.

Muscat: Remarkable progress has been made by the Sultanate in the last four decades in children’s and women’s health, a new research has established.

Research conducted by the National Centre for Statistics and Information in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on children and women in the Sultanate has found out that the country has achieved the fourth Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality.

The average life expectancy has jumped to 76 years from 51 years in 1971. From every 100 children born, 99 children lived for more than 5 years after birth. Now 98 per cent of children received immunisation compared with 20 per cent in the 1980s.

The progress made on immunisation to reduce the rate of infectious diseases among children has been remarkable, but the rate of diarrhoea infection continues to pose a problem in some governorates. The main causes of infant mortality have been attributed to congenital malformations, prenatal events and complications at childbirth.

The Sultanate also achieved the first target of development goals to reduce the prevalence of underweight newborns by half, and this has led to a decline in the rate of stunted growth among children. The wheat flour fortification programme launched in 1993 has significantly contributed to the reduction of anaemia and spina bifida (spinal cord paralysis) rates significantly.

The programme also helped to combat Vitamin A deficiency among children and mothers.

The Sultanate has also succeeded in controlling iodine deficiency, but there is still a need to achieve a sustained and universal coverage by iodized salt. The lack of iodized salt has been improved with the import of iodized salt from neighbouring countries.

In terms of determinants of child health and nutrition, which included maternal health and nutritional status, the study said that the Sultanate has extensive coverage of antenatal and institutional delivery services, and nine out of 10 registered pregnant women receive postnatal care services and all women with live births attended a postnatal clinic at least once after delivery. Such high coverage by maternal health services has led to a decrease in the maternal mortality rate in the Sultanate, which is higher than that of other GCC countries.

Given the Sultanate’s achievement of near universal coverage by maternal health services, the difference is likely to be in the quality of services and the level of awareness among women.

Family planning emerged as an unachievable task. In 2008, more than half of Omani women wanted to use contraceptives but were unable to do so due to customs and traditions prevailing in the country.

The low birth weight is another cause of concern as it is directly linked with the nutritional status of the mother, and it is found that one out of four new born had anaemic mother. The study also indicated that infant and young child care and feeding practices are still below optimal levels. Early feeding of infants with water, herbs, tea and artificial milk prevents exclusive breast feeding. Misconceptions that link pregnancy to child diarrhoea in the breast feed child shorten the duration of continued breast feeding.

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMHS) reported that 90 per cent of the population had access to good water sources and sanitation facilities which in turn remained a determinant of child health. Three-fourths of the dwellings in the Sultanate benefited from piped water distribution system or public water points provided by the government that is subject to a quality control of constantly monitoring the chemical and microbiological standards.

Early childhood development is another area where the Sultanate had made rapid growth, especially in the education sector. Recent years have shown that the government has given great thrust to early childhood education services along with private sector that was holding vast majority of such a service. It is notable that some nonprofit institutions also have joined in this endeavour. Gender parity in pre- school/early childhood education has also increased steadily, but children of low-income families, particularly in rural areas, still need access to adequate early childhood education services. The majority of pre-primary enrolment is in urban areas and the study found that retaining teachers in rural areas is difficult.

The study pointed out that there is a need to increase government investment for early childhood development, not only in early childhood education, since it is essential that the government participates and leads the provision of early childhood development on a large scale while maintaining quality and ensuring access to low-income families.

The rapid growth in early childhood education also indicates a strong demand with supply lagging behind. Challenges remain in providing for the significant proportion of Omani children who are of kindergarten age but not attending pre-primary programmes.

The study also indicated that in the past 20 years, the Sultanate has achieved near-universal access to primary education at a steady rate.

The development in secondary education is also an impressive one, although higher grades require further improvement to achieve better results.

The Sultanate also achieved comprehensive literacy rates among adolescents aged between 15 and 24 years.

The narrowing of the gap between the net enrolment rate and the gross enrolment ratio shows the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to enrol students at the right age. This progress indicates the success of the current basic education system compared to the previous education system.

During the decade from 1990 to 2010, the passing percentage of pupils up to the sixth grade increased by nearly 35 per cent, and the re-sit rate in the lower grades declined but shows need for improvement in the higher grades.

The study says that in order to continue with its achievements in the universalisation of education, the Sultanate should focus on the quality of education by improving teaching capacity which in turn will improve the quality of students who pass out of the Sultanate’s educational institutions.

The Sultanate as a whole has achieved gender parity for both primary and secondary education. Overall, the gender parity index increases in favour of girls as children progress from grads 1 to 12. Girls have a higher promotion rate than do boys.

While literacy rates in the younger groups do not show any gender gap, older age groups show a prominent gender gap with male literacy rates higher than female literacy rates by 20 or more percentage points, the study showed.

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