UN reports progress in health of women, children and adolescents, warns against reversal

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Although the past 10 years have seen progress in the well-being of many of the world's women, children and adolescents, the fragile gains are threatened by armed conflict, the climate crisis and COVID-19, according to a new United Nations (UN) report released Friday.

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File photo: Agencies

The number of maternal deaths worldwide dropped from an estimated 451,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2017, a reduction of about 35 percent, with the most significant declines occurring since 2010, according to the report "Protect the Progress: Rise, Refocus, Recover -- 2020 Progress Report on the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health (2016-2030)."

The mortality rate for children aged under 5 years declined by almost half between 2000 and 2019, from 76 deaths per 1,000 live births to 38. The neonatal mortality rate declined at a slower pace during this same period, from 30 deaths per 1,000 live births to 17, a 42-percent decrease.

However, conflict, climate instability and COVID-19 are putting the health and well-being of all children and adolescents at risk, said the UN International Children's Fund (UNICEF) for the launch of the report.

The COVID-19 crisis, in particular, is exacerbating existing inequities, with reported disruptions in essential health interventions, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable women and children. At the height of pandemic lockdowns, schools were closed in 192 countries, affecting 1.6 billion students; domestic violence and abuse of girls and women increased; poverty and hunger are also on the rise, said UNICEF.

"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a child under the age of 5 died every six seconds somewhere around the world. Millions of children living in conflict zones and fragile settings face even greater hardship with the onset of the pandemic," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in the report. "We need to work collectively to meet immediate needs caused by the pandemic while also strengthening health systems. Only then can we protect and save lives."

The report also examines the deep-rooted inequities which continue to deprive women, children and adolescents of their rights.

In 2019, 82 percent of under-5 deaths and 86 percent of maternal deaths were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Nine in 10 pediatric HIV infections occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent mortality rates were substantially higher in countries chronically affected by conflict.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for efforts to prevent a reversal of the progress achieved in the past 10 years.

"It is our collective responsibility to ensure that progress for women, children and young people is not reversed by conflict, the climate crisis or COVID-19. The will to fight the pandemic must be matched by the will to honor the commitments and investments that have been made," he said in the report.

"I call on all to refocus our efforts so that maternal, child and adolescent health is not neglected as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Together, we can and must steer the recovery from the pandemic toward a more inclusive and sustainable path, leaving no woman, child or adolescent behind."