In a huge effort to restore crumbling services for women, newborns, children and adolescents, a group of high income, low- and middle-income countries and foundations are making pledges of $20.6 billion to protect this group. $6.6 billion (32%) of the total pledge is from money committed by low and middle-income countries themselves, including Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Liberia, and Nigeria. An additional $14 billion (68%) is from official development assistance and grants given by Germany, Canada, Sweden, UK, USA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. India Commitment – $2 billion during 2020-2021 to strengthen all levels of care in response to the pandemic and to ensure essential public health functions with an enhanced focus on women, children and adolescents and the most vulnerable.
The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening three decades of improvement in health and social services for women, newborns, children and adolescents. The well-being of this vulnerable group is being more affected than others due to disruptions to essential health, nutrition and social services since the pandemic, according to senior health experts at The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), a global alliance of more than 1,000 organizations, hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).
PMNCH has issued a 7-point Call to Action in response to the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents. It calls on leaders to protect and prioritize their rights and health during the COVID-19 response and recovery by strengthening political commitment, policies and financing for vital health services and social protections, particularly for the most vulnerable. Countries have responded to this call with financial and policy commitments to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis.
“As important as this $20.6 billion is, it only will partially solve the problem of providing basic essential services for women, newborns, young children and adolescents,” says Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Comprehensive efforts and collective advocacy are needed to ensure availability of substantially enhanced financial resources for this noble cause”, he adds.
The commitments will be launched on December 11 at “Lives in the Balance”, a global online summit to take stock of how COVID-19 is impacting the progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The event, co-hosted with PMNCH with UHC 2030 and the CORE Group, is held on the eve of UHC Day on December 12.
Recent WHO data from 105 countries show that 90 percent of countries have experienced disruptions to health services, with low- and middle-income countries reporting the greatest difficulties.
Some of the most frequently disrupted services include those related to: immunization services (facility-based services: 61 percent and outreach facilities: 70 percent,) and family planning and contraception services: 68 percent.
The maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 38 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2017. Still about 25,000 women were dying every month during and following pregnancy and childbirth, in 2017. Similarly, while the mortality rate for children under 5 years of age has been cut by 60 percent since 1990, about 5.2 million children under five were still dying every year from preventable causes before the pandemic.
According to early estimates of the indirect impact of COVID-19 on child and maternal mortality, more than 2 million additional child and maternal deaths are estimated over 12 months (2020-2021) above the pre-pandemic level because of disruptions to essential health and nutrition services.
Adding to the pain of the pandemic itself is a forecast of at least a 5 percent contraction of the global economy. Recent forecasts also indicate that global poverty is on the rise for the first time since 1998, with an estimated 47 million women and girls being pushed into extreme poverty. This will increase the total number of women and girls living in extreme poverty to 435 million, with projections showing that this number will not revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.
“The health and well-being of women, children and adolescents are now at great risk, with inequities compounded by narrowing access to essential health services such as antenatal care, skilled assistance at childbirth, postnatal care, immunizations and family planning. Our concern is that resources — insufficient to begin with— are being diverted away to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Helen Clark, Chair of PMNCH and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.
As of November 2020, 2.8 million children and adolescents have contracted COVID-19 in 87 countries. That is more than 10 percent of the 25.7 million infections in these countries. Recent UNESCO data show that in April, 1.5 billion students were affected by educational institutions closures in 195 countries this year, leading to loss of school meals and critical impacts on child nutrition.
“These findings show how weak our health systems are at protecting women, newborns, children and adolescents, and how much basic primary health care matters in saving lives and protecting rights. This funding will ensure women, children and adolescents can access health services and priority social protections throughout the COVID-19 crisis and recovery periods,” says Helen Clark of PMNCH.