Women and Children Are Losing Health and Social Services During COVID-19: Report
The pandemic is limiting contraceptives, vaccines, and menstrual hygiene access.
Experts warned the COVID-19 pandemic would impact women and children the most, and now the data is here to prove it.
The United Nations’ Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) published a report on Monday that found mothers, infants, children, and adolescents are losing 20% of their health and social services due to the pandemic, according to Forbes.
Researchers analyzed data from several studies and surveys since January to assess COVID-19’s impact on mothers and children. Studies showed that women and children are losing support and cannot seek out additional assistance compared to men.
“This pandemic is a big leveler because everybody's at risk, “ Elizabeth Mason, co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s IAP, told Global Citizen. “But actually we've seen as the epidemic goes on, not only is it the elderly, but it's also the poorer and the ethnic minorities who are more at risk — and then also the effects on women, children, and adolescents are greatest.”
The report analyzed the relationship between income and maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, and under-5 mortality in 193 countries. Researchers found that women, children, and adolescents in countries with similar economic means experienced different health outcomes. People of color in the wealthiest countries had the largest disparities in disease and death.
IAP examined how the pandemic is impacting women and children’s health in various areas of their lives.
How can countries improve the health of women, children & adolescents everywhere?— YouthAct (@YouthActKE) July 13, 2020
📈Invest in data systems
🏛️ Institutionalize accountability functions
📢 Democratize accountability to include community voices
Tune in now: https://t.co/aYkBYxTXaz#IAP2020@Amref_Worldwide
In one survey conducted in 30 countries, 73% of health workers said they lacked access to sanitary products, 58% noticed an increase in sanitary product prices, and 50% reported not having clean water to manage menstruation.
The report pointed out that limited health care is not the only impact of the pandemic that is impacting women and children.
The pandemic could contribute to more than 1.5 million additional child deaths in six months, with a 9.8% to 44.7% increase in deaths of children under 5. But the combination of increased food insecurity and the disruptions of health systems in poor and wealthy countries alike could cause over 56,000 additional deaths in six months —a 38.6% monthly increase.
A decline in access to life-saving vaccines and maternal health services due to closures and travel restrictions is another major concern as health systems divert resources to address COVID-19, according to Mason.
More than 20 countries reported vaccine shortages due to the pandemic, and 13.5 million children have already missed vaccinations for life-threatening diseases, according to the report.
“If the child doesn't get immunized and is more likely to get one of vaccine-preventable diseases, then, down the line the issue of either out-of-pocket expenditure for health care or having to take time off work for health care can lead to a reduction in income and an increase in poverty,” Mason said.
Fear of exposure to COVID-19 may also be causing parents to avoid seeking health care for their children, Peter Gill, a clinician-investigator and co-author of the study said in a press release. Skipping routine check-ups prevents early identification of underlying health conditions in children he added.
The pandemic is jeopardizing family planning and putting mothers and children at risk of falling into poverty as well.
“Lack of contraception leads to increased risk of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, which in itself then can lead to either a woman who then necessitates having an abortion or, has the child and has another mouth to feed,” Mason said.
Mothers who have unplanned pregnancies tend to give birth when they are younger, not finish their education, and earn less later in life. Children whose births are unplanned are also more likely to have health complications, be born into poverty, and struggle to reach their full potential.
According to the report, limited access to contraceptive supplies during the pandemic could lead to 15 million unintended pregnancies.
The report also highlighted that the world is not on track to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths.
IAP included recommendations for countries to protect women and children during the pandemic and beyond. The report calls countries to follow through with commitments to promote equal access to health care and meet international health standards through improved health care data, additional health care workers, and more accountability from leaders.
“What is extremely encouraging is a high level of participation in the launch of the report and the commitments from the head of agencies to the presidents of South Africa, and all of the other speakers, to actually take on the recommendations, work with each other and work with countries to ensure that they take on the recommendations,” Mason said.
“We will be following up with all of those who've already committed to encouraging other leaders to take forward those commitments to those recommendations as well.”