Taking place alongside the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, global leaders at the annual PMNCH Accountability Breakfast today highlighted the need for urgent, targeted investment in programmes and policies to tackle the devastating social and economic impact of these crises on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable women, children and adolescents. The issues explored and lessons learned apply across the world, including in South Asia.
Data from WHO and UNICEF shows that in 2021 alone, 25 million children did not receive the basic vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, a marker for immunization coverage in general. This represents the largest sustained drop-in rates of routine childhood vaccinations in a generation, potentially wiping out 30 years of progress. 18 million of the 25 million children did not receive a single dose of DTP during the year, the vast majority of whom live in low- and middle-income countries, with India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines recording the highest numbers. In 2022, 274 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This number is a significant increase from 235 million people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades.
The Accountability Breakfast was organized by PMNCH, the world’s largest alliance for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health, and co-hosted by Every Woman Every Child Latin America and Caribbean (EWEC LAC), with a special focus adolescent health and wellbeing issues. The Accountability Breakfast aims to convert talk into action, by providing a platform for those involved in improving the health, well-being and equity of women, children and adolescents worldwide to speak-out on their, or their own, behalf to secure attention and change.
“It is clearer now than ever that collaboration is key to improving accountability,” said the Rt Hon Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. “It is essential for citizens to be heard at the highest levels of government and leadership. Leaders need to understand what people want, and to play their part as champions in creating robust and responsive health systems and communities.”
Over the past two decades a concerted global effort has improved the lives of millions of women, children and adolescents. The proportion of girls being educated globally, for example, rose from 73 percent in 1995 to 89 percent by 2020; the number of child brides reduced by 15 percent over the last decade, averting an estimated 25 million marriages; and there were three million fewer teen births per year since 2000. These gains, and many more, are now being undermined by COVID-19, climate change and conflict.
(Pic: Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand)
Delegates from governments, NGOs, civil society, health professionals and youth organisations at PMNCH, explored key issues affecting women, children and adolescents. The risk and scope of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is being exacerbated by the unprecedented number of compounding crises the world is experiencing – from COVID-19 to climate change to conflict. Yet, less than 1% of global humanitarian funding is spent on protection from SGBV. There is therefore urgent need for targeted action and interventions to prevent and manage SGBV in humanitarian contexts, which overwhelmingly targets women, children and adolescents.
In Asia, World Vision’s regional assessments in 2020 and 2021 have shown that a reduction in income linked to the effects of the pandemic led to a steady decrease in food budgets, from a 21% drop in 2020 to a 35% reduction in 2021. As a result of conflict in Myanmar, as of April this year, 912,700 men, women and children remain displaced. This includes 566,100 people displaced by the conflict and insecurity since the military takeover in February last year. For the first time, displacement in the northwest has exceeded 300,000 people.
EWEC LAC shared the findings from its new report, No Time to Lose: Health Challenges for Adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report focused on adolescents as a population in transition and in need of timely support before they reach adulthood. Decisions made during this life stage, such as pregnancy, sexual health, substance use and school completion, will often determine the rest of their lives.
The EWEC-LAC report finds that while LAC countries have made great strides in recent
decades to improve health systems, inequalities still exist. Despite the introduction of more progressive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) policies and gains in service delivery, 24 million women in LAC have an unmet need for modern contraception, while the adolescent birth rate is the second highest in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. LAC adolescents have also been disproportionately affected. The region has the world’s longest uninterrupted school closures due to COVID-19 mitigation measures, with over 165 million students out-of-school. Adolescents in LAC are incredibly vulnerable to violence and mental health issues. The region has the highest homicide rate in the world, with young men (15 to 29 years old) in Central America killed at four times the global average.
Collectively, the Americas are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 7.1 million cases and 1.7 million deaths as of June 2022, representing 25 percent of total global infections but less than eight percent of the global population. LAC has been disproportionately affected by climate change and natural disasters. Over the past 50 years, Latin America has experienced 4,500 natural disasters that have led to the deaths of 600,000 people and injury to three million. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that, by 2050, there could be up to 17 million internal climate migrants in Latin America.
Delegates at the PMNCH Accountability Breakfast called on governments to take immediate action and rapid implementation of pandemic response and recovery plans to restore health services to pre-pandemic levels. They urged to invest in sustainable financing and comprehensive, evidence-based and equitable programmes, policies and services to improve health outcomes among adolescents and their families, particularly those most vulnerable. Increased investment in universal health coverage (UHC), linked with social protection services, will support more cohesive and peaceful societies.