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Conflict, Climate Crisis, Threaten Fragile Gains to Advance Women and Children’s Health

Fragile gains made over the past decade to advance women and children’s health are threatened by conflict, the climate crisis and COVID-19, according to a new report from Every Woman Every Child, released on Friday.

Protect the Progress: Rise, Refocus, Recover, 2020 highlights that since the movement was launched 10 years ago, spearheaded by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, there has been remarkable progress in improving the health of the world’s women, children and adolescents, with under-five deaths reached an all-time recorded low in 2019, and more than 1 billion children were vaccinated over the past decade.

Coverage of immunization, skilled birth attendant and access to safe drinking water reached over 80 per cent. Maternal deaths declined by 35 per cent since 2000, with the most significant declines occurring from 2010. An estimated 25 million child marriages were also prevented over the past decade, says the report.

Prioritize women and girls: UN deputy chief

However, conflict, climate instability and the COVID-19 pandemic are putting the health and well-being of all children and adolescents at risk. The COVID-19 crisis, in particular, is exacerbating existing inequities, with reported disruptions in essential health interventions disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable women and children.

“We know that women and children are the foundation of our communities and of our future”, said UN deputy chief, Amina Mohammed, in a video message broadcast during the report launch online. “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”, added the Deputy Secretary-General.

Death ‘every six seconds’

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a child under the age of five died every six seconds somewhere around the world”, said Henrietta Fore, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director.

“Millions of children living in conflict zones and fragile settings face 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.”

Last year, 5.2 million children under the age of 5 and 1 million adolescents died of preventable causes. Every 13 seconds a newborn baby died. Every hour 33 women did not survive childbirth; and 33,000 girls a day were forced into marriages, usually involving much older men.

The report examines the deep-rooted inequities which continue to deprive women, children and adolescents of their rights, noting that where you are born, is a significant determinant of survival.

“For too long, the health and rights of women, children, and adolescents have received insufficient attention and services have been inadequately resourced”, said former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Helen Clark.

“We call on all partners to work together to support governments to strengthen health systems and tackle the inequities that constrain progress.”

Narrow the gap

The report calls upon the global community to fight COVID-19 while honoring and respecting commitments that can improve the lives of women and children, and not widen the gap between promise and reality.

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

“The GFF partnership will double down on its efforts to engage with partners and countries and honor the global commitment to ensure that all women, adolescents and children can access the quality, affordable health care they need to survive and thrive.”

The past decade of progress to advance the health of women, children and adolescents must be protected from the impact of the pandemic and the responses to it, the report emphasizes.

“As we respond to COVID-19 and reimagine a better future, with sustained peace, including at home, we must repeat unequivocally that the rights of women and girls are not negotiable. Even in times of crisis – especially in times of crisis – their sexual and reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs”, said Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UN reproductive rights agency, UNFPA.

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