According to a new UN report titled Protect the Promise, women’s and children’s health has suffered globally as the effects of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change converge with disastrous consequences for children, young people, and women.
Data presented in the report, which was released at the World Health Summit in Berlin, show that the majority of maternal, child, and adolescent deaths and stillbirths occur in just two regions: Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
It also shows a critical regression across virtually every major measure of childhood wellbeing, and many key indicators of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since the last Every Woman Every Child Progress Report published in 2020, food insecurity, hunger, child marriage, risks from intimate partner violence, and adolescent depression and anxiety have all increased.
An estimated 25 million children were un- or under-vaccinated in 2021 – 6 million more than in 2019 – increasing their risk of contracting deadly and debilitating diseases. Millions of children missed out on school during the pandemic, many for more than a year, while approximately 80% of children in 104 countries and territories experienced learning-loss because of school closures. Since the start of the global pandemic, 10.5 million children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.
“At the core of our unkept promise is the failure to address the gaping inequities at the root of global crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to conflicts and the climate emergency. The report describes the impacts of these crises on women, children and adolescents, from maternal mortality to education losses to severe malnutrition,” said Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General.
The report Protect the Promise provides wide-ranging evidence that children and adolescents face wildly divergent chances of leading a healthy life simply based on where they are born, their exposure to conflict, and the economic circumstances of their families. For example:
– A child born in a low-income country has an average life expectancy at birth of around 63 years, compared to 80 in a high-income country. This devastating 17-year survival gap has changed little over recent years. In 2020, 5 million children died even before the age of 5, mostly from preventable or treatable causes. Meanwhile, most maternal, child, and adolescent deaths and stillbirths are concentrated in just two regions – sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
– More than 45 million children had acute malnutrition in 2020, a life-threatening condition which leaves them vulnerable to death, developmental delays and disease. Nearly three-quarters of these children live in lower-middle-income countries. A staggering 149 million children were stunted in 2020. Africa is the only region where the numbers of children affected by stunting increased over the past 20 years, from 54.4 million in 2000 to 61.4 million in 2020.
– The six countries with the highest numbers of internally displaced persons – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen – are also among the top 10 food-insecure countries.
– A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has around a 130 times higher risk of dying from causes relating to pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Europe or North America. Coverage of antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, and postnatal care is far from reaching all women in low- and middle-income countries, leaving them at elevated risk of death and disability.
– Millions of children and their families are experiencing poor physical and mental health from recent humanitarian disasters in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, Ukraine and Yemen. In 2021, a record 89.3 million people worldwide were driven from their homes by war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuse.
The report calls upon the global community to address this damaging trajectory and protect the promises made to women, children, and adolescents in the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, it advocates for countries to continue investing in health services, to address all crises and food insecurity, and empower women and young people around the world.
“The report advocates for countries to continue investing in health services, in all crises, and to re-imagine health systems that can truly reach every woman, child, and adolescent, no matter who they are or where they live,” said the Rt. Hon Helen Clark, Board Chair of PMNCH (The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health) and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. “Experts and world leaders are calling for more women in policy- and decision-making at every level, meaningful engagement with young people, and primary health care systems which deliver what people need when and where they need it most.”
Protect the Promise is a bi-annual summary of progress in response to the UN Secretary General’s Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women, Children, and Adolescents’ Health, published by global partners including WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (PMNCH), and Countdown to 2030. It is the most complete evidence synthesis on the present situation of maternal, infant, child, and adolescent health, and it updates the previous Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy Progress Report, which was published in 2020.