Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic in March of 2020, access to routine health services for maternal, neonatal, and child health services (MNCH), has been a challenge. The diversion of health workers, including doctors, midwives, nurses, and community health workers, along with health resources, to outbreak response has meant fewer available appointments and a reduced number of hospital beds, whether for mothers delivering babies or for children requiring hospitalization.
The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) reported that with limited COVID-19 diagnostic capacities, many countries have been unable to test pregnant women when they have presented at health facilities with Covid-19 symptoms. During the fall of 2021, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and Save the Children convened a series of roundtable discussions focused on accelerating progress toward meeting global goals related to maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) in the context of the pandemic.
While COVID-19 has not directly caused a significant increase in child mortality in most countries, the pandemic has negatively affected access to maternal, neonatal, and child health services worldwide. From the diversion of health resources toward outbreak response to the social and economic disruptions provoked by lockdowns and curfews, the pandemic’s impacts on the health of mothers and children have been significant. The World Bank estimates there were more than 250,000 more infant deaths in lower- and lower-middle-income countries in 2020 than would have otherwise been expected.
Over the course of three meetings with representatives of bilateral assistance agencies, multilateral institutions, public-private partnerships, nongovernmental organizations, and research institutions with expertise in the areas of immunizations, maternal and child health, health systems strengthening, and primary health care, several priorities were highlighted.
As the global community looks ahead to the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Child Survival Call to Action and its goal of reducing child mortality to 20 or fewer child deaths per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035, now is an opportune time to take stock of the ways in which the United States, one of the convening governments, along with India and Ethiopia, and in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), can reinforce its support for MNCH in the time of coronavirus. Ensuring access to adequate protection and ongoing training of health workers dedicated to MNCH services; providing programs with the flexibility to pivot and adapt in times of crisis; making better use of existing data to monitor for service quality and equity; and prioritizing continuity of MNCH services within pandemic and health emergency response can help ensure women, adolescents, and children have the support they need to live healthy lives now and in the future.
Prior to the pandemic, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) focused attention on ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age, while the Global Financing Facility was launched in 2015 to offer financial and technical assistance to 30 lower- and lower-middle-income countries in preparing national plans to ensure affordable and quality healthcare for women, adolescents, and children.
The updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health (2016–2030) envisions “a world in which every woman, child and adolescent in every setting realizes their rights to physical and mental health and well-being, has social and economic opportunities, and is able to participate fully in shaping sustainable and prosperous societies.”