A report from the United Nations Organization (UN) warns of the “devastating effects” of conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change on the health of children, youth and women.
Data presented in the report Global Gender Impacts of the Ukraine Crisis on Energy Access and Food Security and Nutrition shows a “critical regression” in virtually all major measures of child well-being and in many key indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The UN document warns that since the last Every Woman, Every Child Progress Report, published in 2020, food insecurity, hunger, child marriage, risks of intimate partner violence, depression, and anxiety have increased among teenagers.
Specifically, an estimated 25 million children were unvaccinated or under-vaccinated in 2021, six million more than in 2019, increasing the risk of deadly and debilitating diseases.
Likewise, the UN points out that millions of children did not attend school during the pandemic, many of them for more than a year, while approximately 80% of children in 104 countries and territories experienced learning losses due to the closure of schools. Since the start of the global pandemic, 10.5 million children have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.
“At the heart of our broken promise is a failure to address the massive inequalities that are at the root of global crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict and the climate emergency. The report outlines the repercussions of these crises on women, children and adolescents, from maternal mortality to loss of education and severe malnutrition.”UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Big differences between countries
The report denounces that children and adolescents face “very different” opportunities to lead a healthy life simply depending on the place of birth, their exposure to conflict and the economic circumstances of their families.
For example, the report shows that a child born in a low-income country has an average life expectancy at birth of about 63 years, compared to 80 in a high-income country. This 17-year survival gap has changed little in recent years. In 2020, five million children died before their fifth birthday, most from preventable or treatable causes. Meanwhile, most maternal, child, and adolescent deaths, as well as stillbirths, are concentrated in just two regions: sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
“Since 2020, food insecurity, hunger, child marriage, risks of intimate partner violence, and adolescent depression and anxiety have increased”
On the other hand, the United Nations indicates that more than 45 million children suffered from acute malnutrition in 2020. Almost three-quarters of these children live in low-middle-income countries. Furthermore, up to 149 million children were stunted in 2020. Africa is the only region where the number of children affected by stunting has increased in the last 20 years, from 54.4 million in 2000 to 61, 4 million in 2020.
The six countries with the largest number of internally displaced persons (Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) are also among the 10 most food-insecure countries.
Women, very affected
The United Nations argues that a woman from sub-Saharan Africa has a 130 times higher risk of dying from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth than a woman from Europe or North America. Coverage of antenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postnatal care fall far short of reaching all women in low- and middle-income countries, exposing them to high risk of death and disability.
Finally, the report details that millions of children and their families suffer from physical and mental health problems due to recent humanitarian disasters in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen. In 2021, a record 89.3 million people around the world were driven from their homes by war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses.
“A woman from sub-Saharan Africa has a 130 times greater risk of dying from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth than a woman from Europe or North America”
“Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-term impact of the pandemic on the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents is becoming clear: their chances of leading healthy lives and productive have drastically decreased. As the world emerges from the pandemic, protecting and promoting the health of women, children and young people are essential to support and sustain the global recovery,” said World Health Organization Director-General WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The impacts of COVID-19, conflict and climate shocks have raised the stakes for vulnerable communities, revealing weaknesses and inequalities in health care systems and reversing hard-won gains for women, children and adolescents, but we are not powerless to change this. By investing in resilient and inclusive primary care systems, putting in place routine immunization programs and strengthening the health workforce, we can ensure that every woman and child can access the care they need to survive and thrive”.
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