Saturday July 21, 2018

Your Children Might Be At Risk! According to UNICEF, 32 Nations Lack Policies to Support Families With Children

The report says that only 15 countries, including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden, have all the three essential national policies that support families with young children

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New York, September 23, 2017 : Thirty-two countries, having the world’s 85 million children under the age of five, do not have any essential policy that supports families with young children, a UNICEF report said.

According to the global body, 40 per cent of the 85 million children, live in just two countries – Bangladesh and the US. The report said that data from various countries including India was missing.

The report says that only 15 countries, including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden, have all the three essential national policies that support families with young children.

“We need to do more to give parents and care givers of young children the support they need during this most critical period of brain development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, adding that if nations don’t invest now in the most vulnerable children and families, they will continue to perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality.

“Life by life, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, we are increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots and undermining our long-term strength and stability,” said Lake.

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According to the report, Early Moments Matter for Every Child, two years of free pre-primary education, paid breastfeeding breaks during the first six months of a child’s life followed by six months of paid maternity leave as well as four weeks of paid paternity leave help lay a critical foundation for optimal early childhood development.

“These policies help parents better protect their children and provide them with better nutrition, play and early learning experiences in the crucial first years of life when the brain grows at a rate never to be repeated,” said the report.

Among the countries, which do not have any of the child or parent related policies are Algeria, Barbados, Bhutan, Brunei, Gambia and Kenya.

The report also highlights that millions of children under five years are spending their formative years in unsafe, unstimulating environments.

“Around 75 million children under-five live in areas affected by conflict, increasing their risk of toxic stress, which can inhibit brain cell connections in early childhood,” the report said.

“Globally, poor nutrition, unhealthy environments and disease have left 155 million children under five stunted, which robs their bodies and brains from developing to their full potential.”

It also mentioned that a quarter of all children between the ages of two and four years in 64 countries do not take part in activities essential for brain development such as playing, reading and singing.

“Around 300 million children globally live in areas where the air is toxic, which emerging research shows can damage children’s developing brains,” it said and added that the failure to protect and provide the most disadvantaged children with early development opportunities undermines potential growth of whole societies and economies. (IANS)

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Will Polio Workers Step Out of Their Comfort Zones to End Virus?

What's more, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers. Thousands of people who cross this very porous border can easily transmit the virus in both countries.

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Polio
Widespread unrest in Afghanistan has kept thousands of children from receiving polio vaccines this year. Conflict in northern Nigeria does the same. VOA

The move to end Polio started in 1985 with Rotary International. At that time, polio paralyzed hundreds of thousands of children every year. There is still no cure, but two scientists developed vaccines against the virus in the 1950’s.

Dr. Jonas Salk produced one with an inactivated virus that could protect against polio without spreading the disease. Later, Dr. Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine with weakened strains of the virus.

In 1988, public and private groups joined the effort in the Global Polio Eradication Program. Members included governments, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since then, the number of polio cases has dropped by 99.9 percent. Last year, 22 children were crippled by this disease. The wild polio virus exists in only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, but it’s still a global threat.

Dr. John Vertefeuille, from the CDC said, “This last mile is a complicated mile.” It’s not just because of conflict or terrorism. “It’s extreme remoteness. It’s very fragile health systems.” And in these remote conflict prone areas gaining access to children can be a major problem.

If polio exists anywhere, it can once again spread everywhere.

Polio
In many places the vaccinators are women because women can go into the homes, talk to other women and gain access to the children. Wikimedia

Vertefeuille and other experts discussed strategies to realize a polio-free world July 10 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Widespread unrest in Afghanistan has kept thousands of children from receiving polio vaccines this year. Conflict in northern Nigeria does the same.

What’s more, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers. Thousands of people who cross this very porous border can easily transmit the virus in both countries.

While the funding and technical support has to come from large, private-public partnerships, immunization teams succeed best if they are local. Approaches have to take culture and customs into consideration.

In many places the vaccinators are women because women can go into the homes, talk to other women and gain access to the children.

Elsewhere, soldiers vaccinate children when they take over an area run by anti-government forces. Vaccination teams have to be prepared to move quickly when there is a lull in the fighting and to deliver multiple doses of vaccine in a short period of time.

Polio
Community volunteers are a great resource. Some get cell phones so they can alert health officials if a child becomes paralyzed. VOA

Surveillance is just as critical. To end polio, you have to know where the outbreaks are. Community volunteers are a great resource. Some get cell phones so they can alert health officials if a child becomes paralyzed.

Another challenge is getting children in migrant groups vaccinated. Vertefeuille says this is where technology helps. The CDC uses satellites to see where people have moved and what areas are abandoned. Clues are where structures have been repaired, where the grass grows on roads, indicating abandoned areas, and where it doesn’t, indicating where people are living.

Dr. Andrew Etsana from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said these groups present a particular challenge because “you have people moving with a virus and it is difficult to track them and vaccinate the vulnerable children in this mobile population.”

Another issue is the nature of viruses themselves. Viruses mutate. So far, the polio vaccines have been effective, but if not enough children get vaccinated, the virus can change, and perhaps make the vaccine less effective. That’s why every child needs to be vaccinated.

Outbreaks that can be avoided by vaccinating the whole population so that there are no gaps for the mutated virus to slip through.

International experts are working with local leaders to close this gap.

Another issue is complacency. Etsana said, “People are getting tired. The program has been going on. They thought it would have ended.”

Rotary has pledged to continue its support, other groups as well. International support and funding is critical to ending polio, but after three decades, many people have never seen polio. Etsana says he sees complacency creeping into all areas of the program. “The funders of the program are also getting tired. The fund is drying up and if the fund dries up and the job is not done, we’re going to have a major problem. We may have reinfection.”

Also Read-After Three Years Struggle, WHO Declares Somalia Polio Free

But, if people recognize the program’s value – it has united communities, established vaccine centers, created partnerships never before imagined – the world can not only end polio, but tackle other diseases as well. The polio program is widely credited with stopping the spread of Ebola in Nigeria while the disease ravaged other west African countries. (VOA)