Over 50% countries have reported partial or severe disruptions to their health services from the dual impact of COVID-19 and climate crisis, according to a report from Every Woman Every Child – a movement launched 10 years ago and spearheaded by the then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. Disruptions to routine immunization services, malaria prevention campaigns, family planning and antenatal care services threaten gains made in women and children’s health over the past few decades.
“We know that women and children are the foundation of our communities and of our future,” said UN deputy chief, Amina J Mohammed, in a video message broadcast during the online launch of the report on September 25. “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.”
Child mortality had fallen by 50% since 2000, the report said, highlighting the progress made in the past few decades. Maternal mortality and child marriages were on the decline, and more girls were going to school than ever before. Over a billion children were vaccinated over the last decade alone.
Impact of COVID-19, climate crisis & conflict
Despite the gains made, sexual and reproductive health and rights remain uneven in many countries. Before the pandemic low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs) were far from achieving universal coverage for many interventions. Nearly 86% of all maternal deaths, and 82% of all under-five deaths were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
But the pandemic has worsened the situation, risking reversal of advances in preventable maternal and child mortality, particularly undermining the health of adolescents.
There has been a 45% reduction in coverage of key high impact maternal and child health interventions over six months in 118 low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), the report said. This would result in additional 1,157,000 child deaths and 56,700 maternal deaths.
An estimated 13 million additional child marriages are likely to take place by 2030 that otherwise would not have occurred. In the coming months there will be nearly seven million unintended pregnancies due to the ongoing lockdowns that are making it harder for women to seek and receive in time the care they need.
The pandemic has also plunged an additional 150 million children into poverty and at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education as COVID-19 shuttered childcare and early education facilities.
“The report is a reality check, a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have to go,” said Omar Abdi, deputy executive director for programmes at UNICEF.
Call for global cooperation
The report calls upon the global community to fight COVID-19 to work together and to improve the lives of women and children. It emphasized the need to protect the progress to advance the health of women, children and adolescents from the impact of the pandemic.
“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.