COVID-19 recovery plan: PMNCH tasks global leaders on improving women, children’s health

by Amref Health Africa

The 10th annual Partnership for Maternal, New-born and Child Health (PMNCH) has concluded plans to deliberate and call on global leaders to fulfil health commitments to African women, children and adolescents.

The 10th Annual PMNCH Accountability Breakfast: Improving health equity in Africa, will take place online on Wednesday, September 22.

The over 1,000 delegates who are expected to attend the summit will bring representatives from governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, health professional associations, youth-led organizations, and grass-roots campaign groups together.

The gathering will review national responses to COVID-19 across sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting measures being taken by countries to maintain and improve women, children and adolescents services through increased and improved investments, policies, and services, in line with the seven asks of PMNCH’s Call to Action on COVID-19, and its Call to Action on Adolescent Well-Being.

At the Accountability Breakfast, five countries are expected to announce their commitments to the PMNCH Call to Action, including three from sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the total number of commitment-making countries to 19, including eight from Africa.

The African continent accounts for 23 per cent of the global burden of disease, despite having only 17 per cent of the world’s population, according to data from Amref Health Africa.

Despite achieving a reduction in maternal mortality of 39 per cent between 2000 and 2017, Sub-Saharan Africa still accounted for more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of global maternal deaths annually, and 53 per cent of under-five child mortality.

In 2021, six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15– 19 years are among girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

These inequities are now being further exacerbated by COVID-19, with several countries in Africa experiencing severe disruptions to essential health services. A survey conducted by the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC) in 18 African Union member states, found 16 per cent of respondents reporting that they, or a member of their family, missed or delayed reproductive, maternal, newborn or child health (RMNCH) services, with disruptions more common in countries with high birth rates (such as Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia).

Data from the Global Financing Facility found that childhood vaccinations were the most interrupted health service among the countries studied, with reductions in the number of fully vaccinated children of 35 per cent in Liberia and 13 per cent in Nigeria, for example.

Helen Clark, Chair of PMNCH and former prime minister of New Zealand, in a remark, said: “The evidence is stark: COVID-19 is increasing health inequities in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This is deeply concerning, and should encourage policymakers to take on difficult conversations about how to prioritize financing, and where to focus service provision efforts to best meet the needs of women, children and adolescents, who are among the most vulnerable citizens in the region,”

On her part, the CEO, Copper Rose, Zambia, Dr Natasha Kaoma, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges for adolescents and youth in sub- Saharan Africa.

“We have seen increased sexual violence, teenage pregnancies and school closures. Now more than ever, youth advocates need to make their voices heard.

“We need to take responsibility and demand for accountability from our leadership and increased investment in adolescent and youth health in order to achieve the ‘triple dividend’ – for adolescents now, their future lives and the next generation.”

One immediate priority that will be addressed at the summit, according to a statement obtained by this newspaper, is the need for prompt and comprehensive action from the international community to redress the extreme inequities in the supply and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, compared to other regions of the world.

 “Until this situation is remedied, the current limited supply of vaccines should be prioritized for certain populations, including those with high exposure to the virus, the health-care workers, particularly midwives and nurses, and those at high risk of severe disease like pregnant women, women with non-communicable diseases and chronic infections and immune-compromised children,” the statement noted.

The statement, however, quoted the Executive Director, UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, as saying that: “As with HIV, COVID has exposed the fragility of systems for health and threatens recent gains in public health and delivery of essential health and social services, especially for women, children and adolescents in Africa.

“We have to end these inequalities for women and girls by ensuring their right to health and empowerment through education, freedom and rights.”

Article first published on

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