Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents with a rapidly growing population at a rate of 2.7% a per year followed by Asia growing at 1.2% and Latin America at 0.9% according to UN estimates.The current outbreak of the deadly coronavirus has had a negative impact on access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

The World Responds

However, the African governments are fully committed to the implementation of International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Program of Action to enable women and girls to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Still, this faces an enormous challenge due to global pandemic that is weakening and overloading the fragile healthcare systems in Africa.

COVID-19 continues to spread in the continent with 664,359 confirmed cases and 14,400 deaths. According to the WHO in the African region women account for around 40% of coronavirus cases. This ranges from 35% in some countries to over 55% in South Africa, for example. Mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents are losing 20 percent of their health and social services in poor and rich countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic says a panel of senior global health experts.

“Health systems in both rich and poor nations are massively struggling and the services for mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents are crumbling,” says Elizabeth Mason, M.D, co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) for women, children and teens, reviewing the impact of COVID-19 on these groups.

Maternal Health Will Decline Because of COVID-19

The experts warn that the continuing increase in the spread of the coronavirus will contribute to negative health-related outcomes such as increases in unintended pregnancies, high-risk pregnancies, maternal mortality, and infant mortality among girls and women in developing countries. In this regards the panel provided an overview global of estimated impacts from the pandemic on mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents since its start in January.

Before the pandemic 5.3 million deaths in children under 5 were recorded and 2.5 million newborn deaths  with a minimum of 168,000 additional deaths estimated. On the other hand, 295,000 maternal deaths occurred during the pre-pandemic, which subsequently went up by an additional 24,400 deaths. Due to the pandemic,health related services were disrupted causing over 400,000 fatalities.

Additionally, as a results of containment measures like curfews,lock down and movement restrictions aims at limiting the spread of the virus has also resulted in massive interruption of health services provision and accessibility. The IAP reports show that 13.5 million children missed vaccinations against life-threatening diseases, hile more than 20 countries reported vaccine shortages caused by the pandemic.

Unintended Pregnancy in the Developing World

The report also noted the severe disruption to contraceptive supplies leading to 15 million unintended pregnancies in low-and middle-income countries. Around 42-66 million children risk falling into extreme poverty and some 370 million children are also missing school meals. Women suffering increased depression, anxiety and uncertainty while 15 million additional acts of violence against women and girls every three months of lockdown were recorded.

According to the Co-chair of the Panel and former WHO Assistant Director General Joy Phumaphi, the new findings show how weak the health systems are at protecting mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents.

“We are at a point where decades of progress for this group could be easily reversed.”The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted steady progress and has led to increased poverty and unemployment. Early data finds women experience not only loss of various categories of support and social safety nets, but also an inability to access increased support, compared to men.“COVID-19 is making a bad situation worse,” says Phumaphi, reflecting the conclusion of the panel’s report.

Reducing Preventable Deaths

Beside the loss of services due to the pandemic, IAP has found that globally implementation is 20 percent behind on the UN’s 2030 goals to reduce preventable deaths for mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents.

The IAP’s 2020 report, published this week, calls for leaders to fulfill their commitments and lays out the action needed to get back on track. Commitments to universal health coverage, primary health care, International Health Regulations and sustainable development, were urgently needed before the pandemic. Now with COVID-19, they are even more important.

Stopping Waste and Increasing Accountability

About 2 USD trillion a year lost due to inefficiencies, corruption and waste. Besides the 20 percent deficit, the Panel found that 2 trillion USD a year are lost to health expenditures, due to inefficiencies, corruption and waste.

How money is spent is every bit as important as how much is spent to improve health and socioeconomic benefits,” Phumaphi pointed out. “The key is full accountability which connects commitment to progress.”

“A key element to sustainable progress is strong citizen voices which advocate for full accountability at all levels, community, state and national,” says Dr. Alipui.

Estimates and projections based on modeling to assess country risks and progress on fighting COVID-19 and the health of mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents vary widely. Thus, outcomes end up patchy. The lack of relevant and accurate data constraints governments’ abilities to make informed decisions to ensure people’s health and well-being of this vulnerable group.

Often, simple information has simply not been collected. Globally, one in 4 births of children under five are not registered with a civil authority; only 93 out of 193 countries are currently able to register more than 80 percent of adult deaths.

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