Africa: International Virtual COVID-19 Summit - Invest in Women's, Children's and Adolescents Health for All Our Futures

2 July 2020
Lives in the Balance
press release

Online COVID-19 summit calls for global commitment to improvements and greater investments in healthcare and social protection for women, children and adolescents

Post-pandemic health systems must be built back better, with a strong social protection net for all and improved healthcare for women, children and young people that takes full account of their self-articulated needs

Delegates attending this week’s online Lives in the Balance: A COVID-19 Summit, will call on global leaders to commit to a seven-point policy plan for improving and increasing investment in health systems and social protection policies for women, children and adolescents as the world rebuilds in the wake of the pandemic.

Almost 1,500 delegates from 110 countries registered to attend this major interactive virtual summit will pool their knowledge and experience to examine the impact and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual, reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health and rights. They will also consider how global health systems can be built back post-pandemic with more robust protections and improved services for women, children and young people that take full account of their self-articulated needs.

The summit, which is taking place over two days, from 1 July, 2020, is being jointly hosted by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) and CORE Group.

Opening the summit, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus said:

“On behalf of WHO, I stand behind all partners - civil society, health professionals, the private sector, young people and more - in advancing the PMNCH Call to Action on COVID-19.  Please join us in this urgent, rallying call to leave no women, children or adolescents behind in our response to this pandemic.”

While young and adult women, children and adolescents are statistically less prone to die from COVID-19, the virus, and the measures taken to control it, can compound and exacerbate the many social and health inequalities they face in their daily lives.

Research from The Lancet, for example, projects that disruptions in access to services in low- to middle-income countries could lead to more than one million child deaths and almost 57,000 maternal deaths over the next six months, while the WHO estimates that approximately 80 million babies are now at risk of missing routine immunizations.

Delegates attending this summit are calling for urgent action to mitigate the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of women, children, and adolescents, and to build back better health systems that take account of the self-articulated needs of these often neglected groups by involving them in designing programmes that explicitly meet their needs.

“This pandemic is a watershed moment for humanity,” said Helen Clark, Chair of PMNCH and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“It can be the moment when we tackle, once and for all, the unacceptable inequities that divide our societies, the moment we commit to having resilient health systems that provide accessible, high quality care for all, and the moment when we acknowledge the need for truly inclusive policy dialogue and decision making.

“To seize that moment, we must begin by listening to women, children and adolescents and all whose voices often go unheard.”

Following a major consultation with members of its global alliance of more than 1,100 organizations, PMNCH has produced a global seven-point Call to Action, which captures many of the priorities women and adolescents have been telling partners they need from health and social protection services.

The Call to Action aligns with findings from research conducted by What Women Want: Demands for Quality Healthcare from Women and Girls, which asked more than 1.2 million women and girls from 114 countries to articulate their priorities for quality maternal, sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Key priorities identified by women and adolescents and reflected in the Action Plan include calls for:  Governments to protect investments in sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent healthcare and advance sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout the recovery period;

  • Provision of high-quality healthcare and support services that are delivered respectfully, preserving the care and dignity of the recipient;
  • Improvements to the support and protection of healthcare professionals, notably nurses and midwives;
  • Development of an equitable social protection net available to all;
  • Provision of safe and clean water and sanitation facilities; and
  • Prevention of violence against women, children and adolescents, which has notably spiked during the pandemic

To realize this ambitious plan will take a concerted effort from all those involved working to promote the health and rights of women, children and adolescents worldwide. Involving all key stakeholders, including health professionals, such as midwives, community-based representatives, women, adolescents and young people, in COVID-19 response task forces throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and post-pandemic recovery will strengthen decision-making, representation and accountability.

While the organizers of the summit see COVID-19 for the terrible tragedy it is, it also provides new opportunities to build back better from the ground up, putting the needs of women, children and adolescents at the heart of every policy dialogue and action.

“The COVID19 Summit aims to bring humanity together to reflect, share and take action regarding the COVID19 pandemic,” said Lisa Hilmi, Executive Director, CORE Group.

“It is vital that a variety of stakeholders have the opportunity to share their experiences, as well as have high level political advocacy around the important path forward for the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents.

“This summit is a launching pad for improved collaboration and improved dialogue across the world- the first COVID19 Summit to meaningfully address the important issues facing women, children and adolescents. We are testing new virtual methods for engagement and participation, to ensure country and global leadership have the opportunity to connect.”

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