Health marked by global decline and permanent inequalities

The health status of women and children is deteriorating globally, a new United Nations report reveals. A situation due to the combined effects of conflicts, the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and their devastating consequences on the future prospects of children, young people and women.

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has indicated in this sense that almost three years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, “the probability that women, children and teenagers to lead healthy and productive lives has been drastically reduced”.

Tedros presented a report with all the global indicators on red, marking a major setback in the majority of the key indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2021, there were 25 million unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children, 6 million more than in 2019. They were therefore at increased risk of contracting fatal or disabling diseases.

Across 104 countries, 80% of young students have suffered learning loss due to school closures, and more than 10 million have lost a parent who cared for them as a result of Covid-19. That same year, more than 89 million people had to flee their homes because of war or persecution.

Closing the inequalities that are at the heart of global crises

“Our failure to deliver on our promises is due to our failure to address the inequalities that are at the heart of global crises, whether it be the pandemic, conflict or the climate emergency,” noted António Guterres, the UN Secretary General.

And certainly, the figures first confirm an implacable geographical injustice. A child born in a low-income country has an average life expectancy of 63 years, compared to 80 years in a developed country, a dreadful gap of 17 years that has changed little in recent years. In 2020, five million children died before the age of 5, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

In 2020 still, 149 million children – a colossal number – were stunted, a frequent consequence of acute malnutrition. Almost three-quarters of them live in lower-middle-income countries. Africa is the only region where the number of child victims of this pathology has increased over the last 20 years, from 54.4 million in 2000 to 61.4 million in 2020.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia alone have the highest rates of maternal, child and adolescent mortality, as well as stillbirths. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman is nearly 130 times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than in Europe or North America.

The Serious Consequences of Forced Population Displacements

Finally, the forced displacement of populations, due to conflicts, violence, persecution or human rights violations have increased the humanitarian toll over the past three years.

In 2021, a record 89.3 million people have had to flee their homes, and the six countries that have experienced the most intense internal displacement of populations (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen) are also among the first to be affected by food insecurity and by physical and mental pathologies.

Titled Protect the Promise, the report is published by several global partners, including WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the Countdown to 2030 initiative.

Political attacks on basic rights to reproductive health and care
This report also deplores political attacks on reproductive health and rights in many countries.

“Women, children and adolescents are today deprived of most of the protections and fundamental rights such as access to healthcare and contraception that they enjoyed ten years ago, and many others do not benefit still not the progress they need,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA.

For her part, Helen Clark, Chair of the Board of the Global Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, recalled the main objective of this report: “He advocates for countries to continue to invest in health services, in all crisis contexts, and to reinvent health systems so that every woman, child and adolescent can truly benefit. Whoever they are and wherever they live”.

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