Monday December 9, 2019

Report: Children Around the World are Living Better

Across the globe, children are healthier and safer than ever before

Report, Children, World
FILE - A woman feeds her child at a clinic in a rural village in Afar, Ethiopia, Jan. 26, 2016. VOA

At a time when bad news seems inescapable, the aid group Save the Children has some good news: Across the globe, children are healthier and safer than ever before.

According to a new report by the U.S.-based charity, the overall situation for children has improved in 173 of 176 countries since 2000. Among the highlights are 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year, 115 million more children in school and 11 million fewer married girls.

“We found that there stands some remarkable progress in helping children to grow up healthy, educated and safe,” said Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children. “And I think the headline from the report is that an estimated 280 million children worldwide are significantly better off today than they were in the year 2000.”

To quantify the status of children, the group created an “End of Childhood” index and ranked countries on a 1,000-point scale. The scores reflect “childhood enders,” including death, severe malnutrition, child marriage, labor and early motherhood.

Report, Children, World
FILE – Students walk within the walled city of Harar, Ethiopia, Feb. 24, 2017. VOA

In Africa, the group found reason for optimism. More than 70% of African countries saw their scores increase by 100 points or more. Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Niger made the greatest gains.

“In most of these cases, you can get strong political commitment from the very top,” Nikki Gillette, one of the report’s researchers, said.

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Each of the African countries highlighted had specific drivers improving the quality of life for children. In Sierra Leone, the end of a protracted civil war led to a 99% reduction in displaced people. In Rwanda, a return to peace and several government initiatives led to a 79% drop in child mortality and a 60% reduction in child marriage and “out of school” rates.

In Ethiopia, a commitment to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals has led to improved health of mothers and children. Miles said, 20 years ago in Ethiopia, Save the Children was primarily focused on saving the lives of young children. Now, the problems are less severe, and the group can focus on other indicators.

“The [Ethiopian] government has taken up a lot of that community health work, and the child mortality rate has dropped by 54%,” Miles said. “So the work that Save the Children is doing there now is more focused on making sure that kids get basic literacy and have all the skills they need in school, and also training youth.”

Some scores drop

But the news wasn’t good everywhere. Syria, Venezuela, and Trinidad and Tobago’s scores dropped between 2000 and 2019. Syria has been in civil war for nine years, Venezuela has undergone a political crisis leading to widespread food shortages and, in Trinidad and Tobago, increased malnutrition has led to higher levels of stunting among children.

Report, Children, World
FILE – Iraqi Yazidi children rescued from the Islamic State (IS) group wait to board buses bound for Sinjar in Iraq’s Yazidi heartland, April 13, 2019. VOA

The report also noted a steep rise in the number of children living in conflict zones. Since 2000, the number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict has increased by 80%, totaling about 30.5 million more people.

“That’s where we see, really, the indicators not going in the right direction,” Miles said.

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In fact, Miles added, the five countries recording the worst mortality rates for children under five — the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Sierra Leone and Somalia — are all either at war or have recently come out of war.

“We released a report earlier this year that estimated that 120 million children were living in areas affected by conflict at the end of 2017,” Miles said. “And the impact on kids is more than just the impact from bombs and bullets.” (VOA)

Next Story

Measles Kills 140,000 people, WHO Calls it “Collective Failure”

WHO Decries 'Collective Failure' as Measles Kills 140,000

Measles- WHO
A child reacts after receiving a measles-rubella vaccination in Yangon, Myanmar. VOA

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as devastating outbreaks of the viral disease hit every region of the world, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

In figures described by its director general as “an outrage,” the WHO said most of last year’s measles deaths were in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.

“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.

The picture for 2019 is even worse, the WHO said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase compared with the same period in 2018.

The United States has already reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years in 2019, while four countries in Europe — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain — lost their WHO “measles-free” status in 2018 after suffering large outbreaks.

An ongoing outbreak of measles in South Pacific nation of Samoa has infected more than 4,200 people and killed more than 60, mostly babies and children, in a battle complicated by a vocal anti-vaccination movement.

Globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade, the WHO said. It and the UNICEF children’s fund say that in 2018, around 86% of children got a first dose of measles vaccine through their country’s routine vaccination services, and fewer than 70% got the second dose recommended to fully protect them from measles infection.

Highly contagious

Samoa Measles
A child gets vaccinated at a health clinic in Apia, Samoa. Samoa. VOA

Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases — more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can linger in the air or on surfaces for several hours after an infected person has been and gone — putting anyone not vaccinated at risk.

In some wealthier nations, vaccination rates have been hit by some parents shunning them for what they say are religious or philosophical reasons. Mistrust of authority and debunked myths about links to autism also weaken vaccine confidence and lead some parents to delay protecting their children.

Research published in October showed that measles infection not only carries a risk of death or severe complications including pneumonia, brain damage, blindness and deafness, but can also damage the victim’s immune memory for months or years — leaving those who survive measles vulnerable to other dangerous diseases such as flu or severe diarrhea.

The WHO data showed there were an estimated 9,769,400 cases of measles and 142,300 related deaths globally in 2018. This compares to 7,585,900 cases and 124,000 deaths in 2017.

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In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, the WHO said, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of global cases.

Robert Linkins, a specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data were worrying: “Without improving measles vaccine coverage we’re going to continue to see these needless deaths. We must turn this trend around.” (VOA)