Covid, conflict grave threat to Women and Child progress

Covid 19, climate change and conflicts are adversely affecting the gains made over the past decade to advance women and children’s health, according to a new report from Every Women Every Child.

The report “Protect the Progress” said that more children lived to see their first birthday than at any time in history at the start of 2020. Child mortality fell by 50 per cent since 2000. Maternal mortality and child marriages were on the decline and more girls went to school, the report said.  However, it said that the progress achieved did not reach every woman and child. “The gains have proven fragile and the future is now uncertain,” the report said.

Since the launch of Every Woman Every Child programme ten year ago, the world has achieved significant gains in maternal, newborn and child health and well-being. However, these advances were not evenly distributed across the world, and the great progress did not reach every woman and child, the report said.

The report notes that in 2019:

  • Every 13 seconds a newborn baby died.
  • Every hour, 33 women did not survive childbirth.
  • Every day, 14 000 children aged under 5 years died.
  • 1 million adolescents died of preventable causes.
  • An estimated 14 million infants were not reached by vaccination services.
  • 66% of children were regularly subjected to violent forms of discipline.
  • Every day, 33 000 girls were forced into marriages as children, usually to much older men.

Conflict situations:

The report points out that women and children are most vulnerable in conflict situations.

  • Millions of women and children who are internally displaced, refugees and migrants are facing an acute state of vulnerability.
  • Maternal and child mortality rates are substantially higher in countries chronically affected by conflict.
  • 1 in 3 children living outside their countries of birth is child refugees.
  • 40% of the global under-5 deaths occurred in fragile contexts in 2019.
  • The under-5 mortality rate in children aged less than 5 years is three times higher in the 36 countries classified as fragile than in so-called non-fragile countries.

Climate change

  • Exposure to polluted air prenatally and during the newborn period is associated with an increased risk of acute respiratory diseases in childhood, and considerable morbidity and mortality, including impaired lung growth, reduced lung function, slowing brain maturation, and impaired growth in cognitive function in schoolchildren.

COVID-19

  • 50% of countries report partial or severe disruptions in routine immunization services, malaria prevention campaigns, family planning and antenatal care services;
  • 1 157 000 additional child deaths and 56 700 additional maternal deaths due to reduction in coverage of key high-impact maternal and child health interventions, over six months of lockdowns in 118 low- and middle-income countries;
  • 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence, due to six months of lockdowns;
  • 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months, due to ongoing lockdowns and major disruptions to health services;
  • 13 million additional child marriages taking place by 2030 that otherwise would not have occurred;
  • 150 million additional children plunged into poverty due to COVID-19.

The report also mentions that discrimination, abuse and violence against women, children and adolescents continued to erode physical and mental health.

Meanwhile, UN Deputy Chief Amina Mohammed said that women and children were the foundation of the communities and future. “Plans to respond to and recover from COVID-19 must prioritize their rights, and ensure continued access to services that support health, access to clean water, nutrition and education.

“While much is still unknown and uncertain, our collective goal endures: for women, children and adolescents everywhere to survive and thrive and for their lives to be transformed”, Amina Mohammed said.

UNICEF Executive director Henrietta Fore said that millions of children living in conflict zones and fragile settings faced even greater hardship with the onset of the pandemic. “We need to work collectively to meet immediate needs caused by the pandemic while also strengthening health systems. Only then can we protect and save lives,” Fore said.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister and Board Chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Helen Clark opined that the health and rights of women, children, and adolescents had received insufficient attention and services. “We call on all partners to work together to support governments to strengthen health systems and tackle the inequities that constrain progress,” Clark said.

Narrowing the gap

The report from Every Women Every Child called upon global community to fight COVID-19 while honouring and respecting commitments that can improve the lives of women and children, and not widen the gap between promise and reality.

COVID-19 pandemic threatened to turn back the clock on years of progress in reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health, said Muhammad Ali Pate, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group.

The report calls for

  • Ensuring access to information, health services and life-saving supplies for women, children and adolescents;
  • Promoting sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality;
  • Guaranteeing quality, respectful and dignified health care;
  • Providing training, equal and fair pay and safe working conditions for health workers, notably midwives and nurses;
  • Ensuring social protection, including food and nutrition, for marginalized and vulnerable groups;
  • Improving access to safe and clean water, toilets and handwashing facilities;
  • Preventing violence against women, children and adolescents.

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