Interview: UNICEF ambassador calls for unity to secure brighter future for children

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"It is especially saddening because the vast majority of these deaths are preventable," Ma remarked.

"I have seen that many premature babies lie on the mother's chest every day to have intimate contact with them," she added. Evidence has shown that a close contact between mothers and their babies can help stabilize a toddler's temperature and stimulate its respiratory system.

Ma Yili, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) ambassador, speaks during an interview at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 17, 2018. The international community should forge a united front to secure a brighter and healthier future for all children, said Ma Yili during her recent trip in Kenya. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)

NAIROBI, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- The international community should forge a united front to secure a brighter, and healthier future for all children, said Ma Yili, a well-known Chinese actress and UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) ambassador during her recent trip in Kenya.

"I did not expect the mother of the child to trust me this much -- this has been inspiring," she remarked with excitement.

Ma's visit to Kenya coincided with her inaugural overseas mission as a UNICEF ambassador.

"The purpose of this visit is mainly to learn from and exchange with health workers in Kenya, and to share my experience there with people back home," said Ma.

"I think men should play their part in nurturing the children, share their duties with young mothers and contribute to improvement of maternal and child health," said Ma.

Ma also underscored the critical role of community health volunteers to ensure the success of child-centered health programs. "There are many male volunteers, which is laudable," she said.

"I hope every child, every woman and every parent have access to quality health care services in Africa, in China and around the word. Let's unite together for a brighter future where all children enjoy better health," added Ma.

She has in the last couple of years engaged in robust advocacy for breastfeeding as a means to promote children's health.

Statistics from UNICEF indicate that sub-Saharan Africa region accounts for 38 percent of the 7,000 newborns who die every day across the globe.

Some of the UNICEF-funded projects in Kenya have achieved remarkable results in increasing breastfeeding rates and reducing neonatal mortality.

"It has been a great honor for me to serve as a UNICEF ambassador, and to work with them to promote early childhood development," she added.

The well-known Chinese actress was in 2013 appointed the UNICEF Special Advocate for Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Development.

"What is even more encouraging is that with the advocacy effort of UNICEF, Kangaroo Mother Care has been popularized in majority of maternity hospitals in Nairobi," said Ma.

Catherine Mutinda, the president of the hospital, hailed Ma's visit and the positive impact it created in the lives of young ones.

As a mother of two girls, Ma had an easy time connecting with children at the maternity hospital.

At the Pumwani Maternity Hospital, which happens to be one of the largest state-funded maternity facilities in Kenya, Ma was impressed by the warm reception she received from the mother of a 2-month-old baby whom she administered an oral polio vaccine.

She has been visiting projects supported by UNICEF and its partners in various parts of Kenya that are geared toward promoting maternal and children's health.

"She is very friendly and down to earth," said Mutinda.

"I feel that the social responsibilities on my shoulder are even heavier since I have become a mother," Ma told Xinhua, adding that she intends to use her influence as a performing artist to raise public awareness on children's health.

Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries are the epicenter of childhood illnesses and deaths because of inadequate and ill-equipped health facilities, poverty and cultural beliefs.