UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Liberia
Faced with two civil wars, Liberia has experienced years of poverty. With more than 80% of Liberians living in poverty, the country has been trying to revitalize its economy. Child poverty in Liberia is significant as well. Moreover, the mortality rate for children is high. In addition to this, Liberia ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index considers life expectancy, education and income.

Child Poverty in Liberia

According to Action Against Hunger, a stable environment for those living in Liberia has yet to emerge. Funding for healthcare facilities has significantly decreased. Liberian children often do not have proper access to education and healthcare and frequently face abuse or trafficking. As a result of this, many children live on the streets. Furthermore, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and one in five do not receive proper nourishment. Meanwhile, about 84% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and make around $1.25 a day.

Uncertain Employment Positions

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) collected the following data. The overall information reveals that over 50% live in extreme poverty. In addition to this, 51.2% of families experience food shortages. This survey also shows that unemployment stands at 3.9%, meaning that Liberia has a low unemployment rate. However, the survey characterized around 79.5% of people as having uncertain employment positions whereas 79.9% of people had an informal form of employment.

While Liberia may have a low unemployment rate, many Liberians find it difficult to provide a stable life for their children and family as women average around 5.2 children. Due to small daily wages, women cannot meet children’s financial needs, reiterating the high mortality rate and low life expectancy that Liberian children experience. Due to a parent’s inability to care for a large family, children end up working at young ages.

Organizations Helping Liberian Children

For the past two decades, Save the Children has been addressing Liberian children that the civil war affected. This organization provides aid in areas such as healthcare and protection. It also assists children by providing them tools such as education and spearheading advocacy for child rights. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of many donors that helps Save the Children.

Action Aid is another organization that is assisting impoverished children in Liberia. Action Aid strives to attain social justice and equality and mitigate poverty. This group focuses on women and the younger generations to improve the quality of healthcare, education and children’s rights.

Many efforts have emerged to address the conditions in Liberia, including child poverty. The World Bank has provided $54 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to improve Liberia’s health services for women and children. The IFISH (Institutional Foundations to Improve Services for Health) project has spearheaded the expansion and operations of hospitals. An example is the Redemption Hospital located in Montserrado County. The multiple projects and initiatives should hopefully aid in the elimination of child poverty in Liberia.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Child mortality in EgyptIn 2020, the rate of child mortality in Egypt was about five times lower than the rate in 1990, a crucial improvement that displays the effectiveness of programs addressing the issue. Since 1994, the government and partnering NGOs have made significant efforts to reduce child mortality in Egypt. As a result, the country has surpassed its objectives for Millenium Development Goal 4. There are several reasons for Egypt’s considerable success in improving children’s health.

5 Reasons for Decreased Child Mortality in Egypt

  1. Public health programs. Arguably one of the most significant projects in the fight against child mortality in Egypt is the government’s immunization campaign. With the introduction of the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), infants received greater protection against diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and tetanus. More than 90% of children aged 18-29 months were fully immunized in 2014. Additionally, the government established initiatives centering on mothers’ health. The Healthy Mother/Healthy Child Programme from 1993 to 2009 was significant in reducing socioeconomic and regional disparities in child and maternal health facilities and services. The program played a part in the increase of medically assisted deliveries from 38% in 1988 to 80% in 2008.
  2. Government partnerships with NGOs. The resources and support provided by NGOs boosted the success of government programs. The Ministry of Health and Population worked closely with UNICEF as part of the Young Child Survival and Development program to launch initiatives to improve maternal and child mortality by ensuring services in disadvantaged areas to promote health, nutrition and hygiene awareness. The World Bank also financed the Health Quality Improvement Programme, which focused on improving the quality of care in Egypt’s medical facilities located in the most impoverished areas.
  3. Improvements in health sector infrastructure and access. As of 2014, there were 5,000 public primary care facilities and 1,100 public hospitals across Egypt. This, in addition to well-developed roads, means most rural and urban citizens reside within five kilometers of a healthcare center. All these factors mean healthcare is widely accessible. Furthermore, the number of trained medical professionals has increased. Between 1990 and 2012 the number of doctors per 1,000 individuals increased by a factor of 8, according to the World Health Organization. Although regional discrepancies still exist, the Egyptian government continues to establish legislation and programs to improve health.
  4. Health information monitoring and sharing. The collection of data on child mortality rates and general health has allowed the government to monitor progress and implement more informed healthcare strategies. Data has informed previous child and maternal health programs and has contributed greatly to the successes of initiatives. The government has prioritized broadcasting messages through the media to educate people on steps to take to improve maternal and child health.
  5. Government actions and priorities. The government’s commitment to women’s and children’s health has contributed to the decrease in child mortality in Egypt. During the years 1989-1999 and 2000-2010, the health of mothers and children became a principal concern for the Egyptian government. Furthermore, the 1988 creation of the parastatal National Council for Children and Mothers prioritizes the needs of mothers and children and ensures that legislation prioritizes children and women too.

A Better Future

Though socioeconomic inequalities remain, Egypt has made many improvements in children’s health. Through cooperation with NGOs, government health programs and a revitalization of the health sector, child mortality in Egypt has decreased exponentially. With continued efforts to promote maternal and child health, Egypt has laid a strong foundation for continued success.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: Flickr

Congenital Anomalies
Worldwide, congenital anomalies cause approximately 295,000 deaths of children within their first 28 days of life. Every year, about 7.9 million children are born with life-threatening defects and 3.3 million children under the age of five5 die from congenital disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), congenital anomalies are structural or functional aberrations that occur during intrauterine life. The most common congenital disabilities include heart defects, cleft lip (palate), down syndrome and split spine (also known as spina bifida). Although 50% of all congenital disabilities do not have a single definite cause, common causes include genetic mutation, environmental factors and various other risk factors.

Geographic Disparities

Although congenital disabilities are widespread globally, they are particularly prevalent in developing countries. Developing countries account for 94% of worldwide congenital disabilities.

The level of income -both individual and national- in developing countries is a crucial factor that indirectly influences the high incidence of congenital disabilities. Low income affects the incidence of congenital disabilities in developing countries in the following ways:

  • Poor Access to Adequate Maternal Healthcare for Women During Pregnancy: About 99% of the global maternal mortality cases occur in low-income countries due to inadequate maternal care.
  • Poor Maternal Nutritional Condition: Deficiency of vitamin B can, for instance, escalate chances of birthing a baby with neural tube defects.
  • Excessive Prenatal Alcohol Consumption: Pregnant mothers’ consumption of alcohol increases their risks of giving birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a total of the damage – both physical and mental – to an unborn child as a result of their mother’s alcohol consumption.
  • Presence of Other Infections: Some sexually transmitted diseases can transfer from a pregnant mother to her child. For example, syphilis during pregnancy accounts for an estimated 305 000 fetal and neonatal deaths annually. It also jeopardizes 215,000 infant lives due to congenital infections, prematurity or low-birth-weight.

How WHO is Taking Action

The World Health Organization has taken and implemented various measures to fight congenital anomalies. In the 2010 World Health Assembly, WHO took on a resolution encouraging its member states to fight against congenital anomalies by:

  • Raising awareness throughout governments and the public about congenital disabilities and the risk they impose on children’s lives
  • Developing congenital disabilities surveillance systems
  • Providing consistent support to children affected by congenital anomalies
  • Ensuring that children with disabilities have the same rights and equal treatment as children without disabilities
  • Assisting families whose children have congenital disabilities

In addition to the resolution, WHO designed a manual that showed illustrations and photographs of selected birth defects. The manual’s primary purpose was to foster further development of the surveillance system, especially in low-income countries.

The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health

In 2016, WHO went an extra mile and published the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents Health 2016-2030, an updated version of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health devised five years prior. The Global Strategy’s grand theme was “Survive, Thrive, Transform.”

  • Survive: “Survive” encompassed various goals that the Global Strategy hoped to accomplish. These include ending preventable deaths, lowering maternal mortality rates and newborn deaths among others.
  • Thrive: The main target was promoting health and wellbeing by responding to the dietary needs of children, adolescents and pregnant & lactating women.
  • Transform: This objective’s primary goal was to create a safe and nurturing environment by terminating extreme poverty. Poverty one of the leading causes of congenital disabilities.

Results

Over the years, the World Health Organization’s relentless efforts in battling against congenital disabilities have made remarkable progress in alleviating the issue. For instance, the number of newborn deaths has plummeted from 5 million to 2.4 million between 1990 and 2019, thanks to the various innovations and programs put in place. Although the current state of affairs is far from ideal, past accomplishments lay the groundwork and identify clear steps for future progress.

Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare is Saving Children in MaliBeing a child in the impoverished, conflict-riddled country of Mali is not easy. Lack of healthcare is one of the major factors contributing to the issue of child poverty. One in 10 children does not live to see their fifth birthday. The primary causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. All these diseases are completely preventable. Children who survive must often work to help provide for their families instead of getting an education. The Malian government is aiming for universal healthcare in Mali, starting with a focus on pregnant women and children under 5.

Conflict in Mali

Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa and one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that 49% of Malians live below the extreme poverty line. With more than half of the country’s entire population under the age of 18, child poverty is an ongoing crisis.

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 and has since struggled for stability. Decades of conflict have wreaked havoc on the people living within Mali’s borders.The most recent conflict began in 2012 when a group of rebels, backed by several Islamic militant groups, overthrew the government in a military coup. These alliances did not last long, and as a result, sparked violence that spread across the country. The struggle for land and power continues to this day. In 2018, nearly one-third of Mali’s population lived in areas directly affected by the conflict. As war wages on, child poverty in Mali continues to increase.

A Child’s Life in Mali

Mali’s youth have taken the brunt of the devastation caused by the continuing violence. Many lack necessities like access to clean water, food, education and healthcare. Children under the age of 5 are most vulnerable, and without accessible healthcare, many preventable diseases turn deadly.

Before the 2012 conflict, great strides were being made in the development of programs and policies to improve the conditions of child poverty in Mali. Infant mortality was on the decline, the number of children enrolled in school increased by 10% and there was a dramatic rise in birth registries. Registry of birth is extremely vital because when a child is unregistered, they do not carry the same rights and protections as those who are. Registration at birth assists in securing a child’s access to human rights protections under laws against child marriage, labor and recruitment into armed forces before the legal age. Without documentation to prove identity, education, healthcare and the right to vote become inaccessible.

UNICEF’s Efforts

The country’s instability has halted much of the progression. However, humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, continue to work toward the goal of ensuring every child’s rights are upheld. UNICEF is currently working on four key elements of child welfare in Mali:

  1. Vaccinations: UNICEF targets communities with the highest number of unvaccinated children and uses proven strategies to supply vaccinations for the most common diseases.
  2. Malnutrition Prevention: Educating families within the first 1,000 days of life on proper nutrition, vaccination benefits and hygiene has been successful in decreasing infant mortality rates.
  3. Education: Distributing learning materials and helping train teachers to ensure children have the best quality education possible is a high priority.
  4. Child marriage: UNICEF is assisting the Malian government in developing policies to end the practice of child marriage. This entails encouraging leadership on local levels to adopt progressive policies that promote social change for the betterment of the female children in their communities.

The Good News

The Malian government says it wants to see improvement in the lives of its people. For this reason, it is actively working to ensure free healthcare is available to all citizens. The ultimate hope is for universal healthcare in Mali.

Data obtained through a lifesaving pilot program that began in 2008 provides promising news. This trial program provides door-to-door healthcare in the town of Yirimadio, which is located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. When the trial began, the child mortality rate was 154 deaths per 1,000 births. Upon the trial’s completion, the child mortality rate had decreased by a staggering 95%.

This free door-to-door health care program was so successful that Mali’s government has committed to having this healthcare program available nationwide by 2022. At this time, the plan is offered to pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Mali’s health minister, Samba Ousmane Sow, said, “We are trying to make Mali be great again, to improve our healthcare system and save lives and we are hoping this will help us reach universal healthcare with a very powerful, improved system.”

The Road Ahead

The primary concern is ensuring healthcare professionals have the training and provisions to provide the service. The Malian government is seeking ways to become self-sustaining in its quest for universal healthcare as it is saving children in Mali. Currently, it is reliant on external donors to supplement government funding. Nonetheless, amid conflict, there lies hope for the future.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Children in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in Western Africa, is one of the least developed countries in the world. About 45% of the over 20 million who live in the nation face poverty. Nearly 2.2 million people live in dire need of aid, with children half of those in need. This crisis has only worsened due to the ongoing conflicts in the Sahel region of Western Africa, which have displaced millions of Burkinabé people and put them at a higher risk of poverty.

Children in Burkina Faso, who make up 45% of the population, face more challenges than nearly any other group of children on Earth — many of them have low access to nutrition, education, and healthcare, and are often subjected to child labor and marriage.

Hunger and Malnutrition

While Burkina Faso has always struggled with hunger, with 25% of children stunted from malnutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The number of people in need of food aid has tripled to 3.2 million, and many of those suffering from malnutrition are children. Doctors and nurses in Burkina Faso are reporting extremely high numbers of malnourished children entering their healthcare facilities each day. Prior to the pandemic, Burkinabé children experienced hunger as a result of displacement from the conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region.

Education

While attending primary school is compulsory for children in Burkina Faso between the ages of seven and fourteen, this rule is not enforced, and about 36% of children do not attend. Additionally, 67% of girls over the age of fifteen do not know how to read or write. The high levels of poverty in the country lead to low levels of education. Furthermore, the conflicts in the area have only made it harder for children to access and attend their schools. Attackers have raided the schools, injuring teachers and putting Burkinabé children at risk.

Healthcare

Burkina Faso has the tenth-highest under-five mortality rate in the world, with 87.5 out of every 1,000 children in 2019 dying before their fifth birthday. About 54 infants die for every 1,000 live births . That majority of these deaths are from communicable diseases and malaria, which the nation has struggled to prevent and control. While the number of healthcare workers in the area has increased in the past few decades, particularly between 2006 and 2010, it has not been quite enough to combat the need of the ever-growing population, and many children in the area are left without healthcare access.

Child Marriage

Over half of Burkinabé children are married before their eighteenth birthday, and the country has the fifth highest rate of child marriage in the world. One in ten girls under nineteen have already given birth to at least one child. Girls with limited access to education have a higher chance of marrying as children. The same holds true for girls who live in impoverished households. Both of these trends remain common in Burkina Faso. The apparent social value ascribed to girls in the region is considered lower than their male counterparts. As a result, young girls who enter child marriages often do not have a choice in their future husbands.

Child Labor

42% of children in Burkina Faso are engaged in child labor rather than attending school. Though the government adopted a “National Strategy to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor” and raised the legal minimum working age to sixteen, these high rates of child labor have not decreased significantly over the past few years. These children work as cotton harvesters, miners of gold and granite, domestic workers, and in some rare cases, sex workers. Child labor puts children at risk of serious injury, and, in some extreme cases, even death.

While children in Burkina Faso face all of these challenges, work is being done to help them live safe, healthy and educated lives. Save the Children, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger and Girls Not Brides are just a handful of the organizations working in Burkina Faso to ensure that these children receive the care they need and deserve. Childhood in this region is, in fact, difficult. Yet, all is not lost as these groups work to improve the lives of children across Burkina Faso.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Pneumonia
One of the most common diseases globally, pneumonia can be a silent killer when it infects children under 5. In the developing world, rates of childhood pneumonia cases and deaths are still high despite decreasing in other childhood diseases. However, due to new research and outreach programs to aid developing countries, those numbers may soon fall.

10 Facts About Childhood Pneumonia

  1. Various sources cause the disease. Unlike many other diseases that come from a single source, pneumonia is the name for the lungs’ acute response to an airborne pathogen. While pneumonia can develop from bacteria, viruses or fungi, the most common cause for children is the bacteria S. pneumoniae. The bacteria typically live in the lungs without harming the body, but the body develops pneumonia to kill the bacteria when it begins to spread.
  2. Childhood pneumonia mainly infects children under the age of 5. While people of all ages can develop pneumonia, children under the age of 5 are especially susceptible to the infection. Since their immune systems are not fully developed, their bodies are more likely to trigger a response to a foreign agent’s presence in the respiratory system, leading to pneumonia. These infection rates only increase in developing countries, where children are more likely to be born either malnourished or with a disease that they acquired in utero such as HIV.
  3. Pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children. Although pneumonia is often easy to treat and cure in developed countries, it can be fatal in developing countries. According to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), childhood pneumonia kills over 800,000 children each year in comparison to 437,000 from diarrhea and 272,000 from malaria. These deaths are typically in children who are malnourished or have other conditions such as HIV that impair the immune system.
  4. South Asia has the greatest incidence of childhood pneumonia. Out of every 100,000 children in South Asia, approximately 25,000 will develop pneumonia each year. However, the majority of these cases — approximately 36% — occur in India. Studies looking into the potential causes for the increased number of cases have found that overcrowding in housing with inadequate ventilation allowed the disease to spread among families. Without effective airflow, children in those households continue to breathe in potentially infected air, increasing their chances of developing pneumonia.
  5. Air pollution increases pneumonia rates. Although a child needs to have exposure to the biological cause of pneumonia to develop the disease, certain environmental factors can increase infection likelihood. In India, a country with one of the worst-rated air qualities in the world, particles of smoke and other forms of pollution in the air weaken lungs when inhaled, making it more likely for a young child to develop pneumonia. These conditions of outdoor air pollution causes approximately 17.5% of all pneumonia deaths in the developing world.
  6. The disease is treatable. With antibiotics or antifungals (depending on the cause), children with pneumonia can recover from the disease. However, this treatment is dependent on the resources available in the country where the child lives. In developing countries such as Nigeria — the African country with the highest pneumonia rates in children — only one in three children with pneumonia symptoms can receive treatment due to the lack of available medicines and other medical resources.
  7. Some are producing vaccines. Although vaccines cannot treat viral pneumonia, they are still an important asset in preventing it. However, most of the produced vaccines are only available in developed countries where doctors recommend them for children under 5. In developing countries, nearly 10 million children are unvaccinated. Through the World Health Organization (WHO), many countries have received vaccines, although there has been great variation between regions of the world. While WHO’s South-East Asian Region has 89% coverage, its Western Pacific region only has 24% coverage.
  8. Less progress has occurred regarding childhood pneumonia. While research on pneumonia as a whole has increased over the past decade, there has been much less progress on childhood pneumonia in comparison to other childhood diseases. Since 2000, deaths for those under 5 from pneumonia have decreased by 54%, while deaths from diarrhea have decreased by 64% and are currently half the number of childhood pneumonia deaths.
  9. Large organizations are helping. Among other large, international organizations, the Gates Foundation has taken efforts to reduce childhood pneumonia rates in developing countries. One of its main methods is the continued distribution of vaccines to children and families in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically India and Nigeria. So far, the organization has sent vaccines to over 37 countries in those regions of the world, slowing transmission and infection rates in those areas.
  10. Rates will continue to drop in the future. Although the number of childhood pneumonia cases each year have not dropped as much as other diseases, long-term progress is still ongoing. If the current level of progress toward eradicating the disease continues, UNICEF predicts that it will save 5.9 million children. At the same time, if resources towards the effort increase, that number will increase to nearly 10 million.

UNICEF and WHO do not expect to meet their goal of eradicating childhood pneumonia until 2030. However, the progress they and many others are currently initiating is making a difference. Soon, pneumonia will become an extinct disease in the developing world so that it will never harm another child.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

empowering women improvesIn recent years, great strides have been made in improving women’s and children’s health. Fertility rates in both low and middle-income countries have significantly declined and life expectancy has increased by more than 10 years. Despite this progress, the WHO reports that a vast majority of maternal deaths (94%) occur in low-resource settings and most could have been prevented through adequate maternal care and other factors. Political and societal efforts to mitigate these disparities as well as ground-level health interventions are key to guarantee enduring improvements in women’s and children’s health. Empowering women improves maternal and child health outcomes in several ways.

Empowering Women Improves Maternal Health

Although the role of women’s empowerment as a social determinant of maternal and child health outcomes has not been as widely acknowledged as other social determinants such as education, it is a leading opportunity to improve the well-being of women and children around the world. Women’s empowerment is positively associated with an array of positive maternal and child health outcomes,  such as improved antenatal care, contraceptive use, child mortality and nutrition levels.

Improved Maternal Health in Guinea and India

Another facet of maternal health that is linked with women’s empowerment is increased access to quality maternity care. The Republic of Guinea has committed to alleviating maternal and child health disparities by increasing women’s liberty. According to the 2018 Guinea Demographic Health Surveys, mothers who received higher quality antenatal care (ANC) also exhibited several aspects of women’s empowerment, such as having a proactive role in healthcare decisions and being employed.

In Varanasi, India, women’s autonomy and empowerment were also found to positively influence maternal health. A study of 300 women found that women with greater autonomy were more likely to deliver their baby in a clinic and employ higher levels of antenatal care.

Improved Maternal Health in Africa

Uniformly, a regional analysis of Africa revealed that dimensions of women’s empowerment impacted maternal health and utilization of health services. Researchers found that having greater control over money or household decisions correlated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. This is important because low maternal weight is a risk factor for low birth weight babies and adverse infant outcomes. Additionally, facility delivery was significantly associated with positive attitudes toward gender roles in Nigeria. Delivering in a clinic plays a large role in reducing maternal mortality as the majority of fatal pregnancy complications can be prevented if intervened by a skilled clinician.

Empowering Women Improves Child Health

In addition to improving maternal health, empowering women improves and enriches the health of their children. Studies have found a nexus between women’s empowerment and good child health outcomes, including higher utilization of health care services and immunizations, improved nutritional status and lower child mortality.

Women in Nepal who own land are significantly more likely to have authority over household decisions,and similarly, children of mothers who own land are significantly more likely to be a healthy weight. The connection between land ownership and feelings of empowerment mean women are more likely to use income to contribute to the well-being of the children and the family overall.

Organizations for Women’s Empowerment

Mending educational and economic inequalities and disadvantages that women and girls face are fundamental in empowering women and marking long-term and sustained improvements in women’s health. Offering scholarships, making schools a safe environment for girls and transforming beliefs and gender-biased social norms that perpetuate discrimination and inequality are avenues to create equal education opportunities. Additionally, governments and policymakers are pertinent to allocate resources necessary for gender equity and improving female health.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) are a great example of a simple yet effective solution to empower women who live in lower-income communities. Find Your Feet is an organization based in the U.K. that is working in Malawi and rural India to end rural poverty. The organization works with families in remote areas of Asia and Africa by helping them earn incomes and expand access to vital services. A key facet of its work is geared toward women’s empowerment and it has created SHGs throughout the poorest districts in India.

The Way Forward

Empowering women is a catalyst for not only better maternal and child health outcomes, but investing in a woman’s health and empowerment has a ripple effect, helping families, communities and countries to rise out of poverty.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Yemen
The Yemen civil war, which began in early 2015 and still devastates the nation today, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A total of 24 million people require assistance. This crisis affects all aspects of life in Yemen, including healthcare. Millions are without access to life-saving medical treatment and supplies, leading them to die of preventable diseases, such as cholera, diabetes and diphtheria. Pregnant women and infants are particularly vulnerable during this health crisis as adequate medical care throughout pregnancy and birth is essential. Maternal health in Yemen is of the utmost concern now.

Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 17% of the female deaths in the reproductive age caused by childbirth complications. Maternal health in Yemen has never been accessible to all women. This crisis has escalated even further during the Yemeni civil war. However, global organizations are acting to save the lives of these pregnant women and infants who desperately need medical care.

Yemen’s Maternal Health Crisis: Before the Civil War

Even before the war began in 2015, pregnant women were struggling to get the help they needed. Yemen is one of the most impoverished countries in the world — ranking at 177 on the Human Development Index (HDI). Poverty is a large factor in the insufficiency of maternal health in Yemen as impoverished women lack the finances, nutrition, healthcare access and education to deliver their babies safely.

Many Yemeni women are unaware of the importance of a trained midwife during childbirth. Of all the births in rural areas, 70% happen at home rather than at a healthcare facility. Home births increase the risk of death in childbirth as the resources necessary to deal with complications are not available.

The Yemeni Civil War Increased the Maternal Health Crisis

Since the civil war began, the maternal mortality rate in Yemen has spiked from five women a day in 2013 to 12 women a day in 2019. A variety of factors caused this spike. The war has further limited access to nearly every resource, including food and water. This, in turn, depletes the health of millions of women and thus their newborns.

Also, the civil war has dramatically decreased access to healthcare across the nation. An estimated 50% of the health facilities in the country are not functional as a result of the conflict. Those that are operational are understaffed, underfunded and unable to access the medical equipment desperately needed to help the people of Yemen. This especially affects pregnant women — who require medical care to give birth safely.

Organizational Aid

Though the situation in Yemen remains dire, various global organizations are acting to assist pregnant women and newborns. The United Nations Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is taking the initiative to help millions across Yemen, including pregnant women. The organization has sent health workers and midwives into the country’s rural areas to screen and treat pregnant women for complications.

Similarly, USAID trained more than 260 midwives and plans to send them into Yemeni communities to help pregnant women and infants. USAID is partnering with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population and other organizations to ensure that maternal health in Yemen, as well as all types of healthcare, are adequate and accessible for all affected by the civil war.

Maternal health in Yemen, while never having been accessible for many, is now in crisis as a result of the Yemeni civil war. While the situation is still urgent, organizations such as USAID and UNICEF are fighting to ensure that all pregnant women and infants in Yemen have access to the medical care they desperately need.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Invest in Foreign Aid
The UN has reported that global poverty has reduced by half in the past 20 years, but estimates have determined that 10% of the global population continues to live in poverty. Roughly 736 million individuals live on less than $1.90 a day. With poverty being a multi-faceted issue and having implications ranging from the preservation of life to global economics and politics, here are some of the reasons why investment in foreign aid is a good idea.

Saving Lives

Research shows that many of the deaths per annum that occur due to poverty are preventable. Specifically, in children, estimates have determined that two in every three deaths are due to diseases and conditions that are treatable such as pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea. Famine, which claims 9 million lives a year and is responsible for half of all deaths of children aged 5 and below persists despite research that shows there is enough food produced to feed the population in its entirety by 1.5 times over. With the means readily available, committed support can make a life-saving difference.

Equalize Distribution of Wealth

In a report on economic inequality, researchers were able to determine that billionaires earned enough income to end poverty seven times over in 2017. With well documented adverse effects on GDP, increasing levels of income inequality have produced a measurable stagnation in global economic growth. Organizations like The Giving Pledge, which is comprised of a list of billionaires who have committed half of their wealth to charity, could help solve the problem in redistributing their wealth thereby accelerating global economic development.

The Value in Developing Economies

Since 2008, the U.S. has engaged in investment in foreign aid to Ghana. In fact, it has provided Ghana with $150 million to date. This relationship between the two countries has become increasingly mutualistic as the economy of Ghana continues to develop. An increase from 7.8% to 30.3% in exports from the U.S. shows that when one invests in foreign aid, it produces measurable returns. One can find similar results throughout the globe. For example, the U.S. invested north of $800 million to Afghanistan in 2020 alone but stands to make $1.2 billion in exports. Moreover, this is in spite of the fact that the bulk of funds are going toward democratic processes, human rights and governance.

Building Alliances

In the 20th century, South Korea, Germany and Japan were recipients of foreign aid via The Marshall Plan. The U.S. has providing foreign aid one of its mandates ever since. Today, South Korea and Germany are some of the United States’ most valuable allies and trading partners. With less than 1% of the federal budget going to foreign aid and the U.S. polling highest in how other countries view it as an ally globally, the importance of nurturing and maintaining alliances abroad benefits not only the economy but national security interests as well.

The upsides of concerted investment in foreign aid to eradicate global poverty are self-evident, with the global population experiencing highs in life expectancy, global literacy rates and access to higher education, as well as significant reductions in child and maternal mortality rates. It is clear that much work is necessary, but the world’s understanding of the issue has never been more sophisticated.

– Christian Montemayor
Photo: Flickr