Four ways how the EU can help children thrive beyond the age of five –

Each year, five million children do not make it to their fifth birthday. Here is four ways how the EU can help save their lives.

Ylva Sperling is Europe Director of Save the Children.

Could there be anything more important than saving a child’s life? What about saving five million children’s lives? Each year across the world, five million children do not make it to their fifth birthday due to pneumonia, malnutrition or other preventable causes. That’s equivalent to around a quarter of the EU’s under-fives population.

The number is sobering. The human stories behind it are heart-breaking. As a parent, seeing your child ill and in pain is bad enough. Having no resources to take your child to the nearest hospital or means to buy medicines makes it much worse. This was what Debora (not her real name) from Kenya was going through when her 13-month twins stopped breathing well. “Their chests got stiff, they were wheezing and vomiting.” Debora sought help from community health workers who recognized the severity of the twins’ conditions and took the children to hospital where they received treatment for pneumonia. Not all children in the surrounding rural areas – where 6 to 7 out of every 10 children contract severe pneumonia – are lucky enough to get to the pediatric ward. Inequalities and uneven access to services make children’s chances of surviving a lottery.

What’s more, the worst global food crisis in decades is putting millions more children’s lives on the line. Fueled by a deadly mix of conflict, the climate crisis and economic shocks, and exacerbated by the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine, these interconnected crises are threatening every child’s survival today.

Yet there is hope. We know how to treat and prevent malnutrition and the most common treatable diseases. COVID-19 showed us that when we work together, we work better and can achieve remarkable results.

The EU wields enormous power to help children across the world to be healthy and happy, safe from harm and hunger. For Child Health Week 2022, Save the Children is asking the EU to do everything in its power to save children’s lives worldwide. In line with principles set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, policy makers must take these four targeted actions to fulfill the rights of millions of children not just survive beyond five, but to thrive:

  1. strengthening health systems is one of the most effective ways to transform children’s lives.

Health systems are the backbone of our societies. Without strong, quality health care and services, children are more susceptible to diseases, environmental shocks and devastating effects of humanitarian emergencies. Now more than ever, we need resilient health systems and health care workers, especially at community level, to reach those children who are furthest away.

The upcoming Global Health Strategy is a perfect opportunity for the EU to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and to positively impact millions of children’s lives. To be transformative, the strategy must be inclusive, prioritize children and be tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable. It needs to include the “health for all” principle and ensure coherence and coordination among relevant sectors such as health, international partnerships, humanitarian aid, trade and research. To be achievable, the strategy must come with a concrete action plan and allocate adequate funding to face future crises.

  1. Act now and act almost. No child should be dying from hunger in 2022.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals world leaders, including the EU, have promised to end malnutrition by 2030. Currently, we are off track to achieve this goal. In 2021, 828 million people were affected by hunger, bringing the world to the same levels of malnutrition as in 2008. At least 13.6 million children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition today.

To protect children, the EU must integrate nutrition into health systems services, ensuring essential health and nutrition services are accessible to all, free at the point of use and available at all times, without barriers – even in crises. Additionally, investing in early warning systems and interventions that increase resilience and strengthen the capacity of national health, nutrition and social protection systems must remain a long-term priority.

  1. A planet with a fair, green, equal future: a crying need to mitigate the climate crisis.

The climate crisis is having a profound impact on children’s lives. Pollution and extreme weather caused by climate change are damaging children’s health, especially for those who are already struggling to get ahead in life. Children born in 2020 will face on average almost seven times as many scorching heatwaves and twice as many wildfires as their grandparents.

The EU and its Member States have already shown strong leadership in mitigating climate change, being the largest contributor to international public climate finance and having more than doubled their contribution to climate finance to support developing countries since 2013. The EU must live up to its ambitions by putting children at the center of its climate policy, investing in strong children’s services and safety nets to help children and their families adapt to changes and cope in tough times.

  1. Children want people in power to listen to what they have to say.

Children are agents of change in their own right. In the past years, the EU worked hard to become a champion of child participation. The first Youth Action Plan in EU External Action to strengthen engagement with young people worldwide has just been launched. Currently, the EU is creating its first child participation platform to hear the views of children on EU laws and policies. The EU must continue to lead by example and guide other national and international institutions to listen to children, ensure they have a seat at the decision-making table and amplify their voices globally.

We have a lot to do to fulfill children’s rights and stop children dying before reaching their fifth birthday. Only by working together can we realize the right to health as a fundamental human right for all children worldwide. We will continue to fight for a world where children can grow up healthy and thrive. Will you do it with us?

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