Accessibility links

Breaking News

COVID, Conflicts Hamper African Health Progress

FILE: A healthcare worker administers the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a woman, amidst spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 04, 2021.
FILE: A healthcare worker administers the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a woman, amidst spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 04, 2021.

The combined impact of COVID-19 and increasing conflict situations is threatening progress in health and social services. At a virtual summit late Thursday, global leaders and health advocates discussed the health of women and children in fragile settings. From Nairobi, Reuben Kyama has the story.

The Nairobi-based May 19 virtual summit titled “Lives in the Balance” brought together government representatives, policymakers, health care providers and community leaders.

Participants discussed the challenges faced in protecting the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents, and the policies and financial investments required to provide services in Africa and worldwide amid increased instability in many regions.

The virtual summit was the fourth in a series of Lives in the Balance e-summits, launched in 2020 by PMNCH, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister and PMNCH Chair Helen Clark outlined the situation and its challenges.

“Things have got worse for women, children and adolescents on the frontlines," Clark said. "There are more conflicts. We have seen the devastating war in Tigray (Ethiopia). And then of course over the next three months, the devastating war in Ukraine."

The United Nations children’s agency said about 43 per cent of global under-five deaths in 2020 occurred in fragile and conflict-affected situations. The participants of the e-summit said they hope by working together to change that.

Clark noted "These are very tough times; yet again, we are looking at record numbers of people around our world displaced, and most certainly there’s a record number of women, children and adolescents in great need of assistance.”

Margaret Agama-Anyetei, Acting Director of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development for the African Union, said Africa was particularly vulnerable.

“The fact that the continent broadly is also unprepared and has weak preparedness systems in place to deal with many of these issues which result in humanitarian situations," she said. "And of course, we cannot forget the issue climate change and climate-driven humanitarian situations.”

In January, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the vaccine alliance Gavi launched the "COVID Vaccine Country Readiness and Delivery" initiative. Global Lead Coordinator Ted Chaiban said he regrets that many people in fragile and humanitarian settings remain unprotected, especially from the COVID pandemic.

“Since January, the number of countries with vaccination rates at or below 10% has dropped from 34 to 18. Of the eighteen, 14 countries are facing humanitarian emergencies. This means that the world’s most vulnerable people, including refugees and internally displaced are likely to be vaccinated the last, if at all.”

Zimbabwe NGO Youth Engage representative Clarissa Regede told the summit that the collection of data and its analysis was essential. She added "We have taken it upon ourselves to go into the community and record the successes; how government is doing well or how government isn’t doing well in terms giving young people what they want or what adolescents and young women want. "

But she also said "I think COVID-19 came to derail all the things that had been put in place."