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How armed conflicts affect essential health needs of 630m women, children, by study

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Essential health needs of no fewer than 630 million women and children – that is over eight per cent of the world’s population – are affected by armed conflicts.

A new four-paper series exposing the far-reaching effects of modern warfare on women and children’s health, published yesterday in The Lancet, noted that a third of the victims of these conflicts, which are fast becoming protracted and posing a grave threat to humanitarian services, live in Pakistan, Nigeria and India.

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The study, titled “The political and security dimensions of the humanitarian health response to violent conflict,” highlighted the failure of the global community to prioritise the health of women and children during conflicts.

It, therefore, called for an international commitment from humanitarian actors and donors to confront political and security challenges, together with consensus on a framework for identifying high-priority interventions to reach the most vulnerable with the best care possible.

Led by academic co-investigators and partners affiliated with the BRANCH (Bridging Research & Action in Conflict Settings for the Health of Women & Children), the group synthesised existing evidence with new modelling and insights from a range of local research partners, humanitarian agencies, and civil society organisations.

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Prof. Zulfiqar Bhutta from the Centre for Global Child Health, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in Canada and the Institute for Global Health & Development, The Aga Khan University, who led the survey said: “The new estimates provide compelling evidence of the enormous indirect toll of modern warfare caused by easily preventable infectious diseases, malnutrition, sexual violence and poor mental health, as well as the destruction of basic services such as water and medical facilities.”

He continued: “Today, more than half of the world’s women and children are living in countries experiencing active conflicts. The international community cannot continue to ignore their plight. It’s time for a radical rethink of the global response that confronts challenges to insecurity, access, politics, coordination and the logistics of delivering high-priority interventions to women and children in politically unstable and insecure settings.”

The series explored the changing nature of wars and their short and long-term health effects on women and children, strategies for identifying best responses and interventions by in-country assessments and studies.

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New estimates suggest that the number of women and children affected by armed conflicts around the world have risen steadily since 2000.

In 2017, one in 10 (10 per cent) women and almost one in six (16 per cent) children worldwide were either forcibly displaced by conflicts or lived dangerously close (that is, within 50 kilometres) to conflict zones.

Evidence suggests that the risk of dying from non-violent causes increases substantially with proximity to more intense and chronic conflicts, with women of child-bearing age in Africa living near the highest-intensity fighting three times more likely to die than women in peaceful areas, and the risk of death among infants higher by more than 25 per cent.

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Between 6·7 and 7·5 million infants and more than 10 million children under five years of age, born within 50 kilometres of armed conflicts estimated to have died from the indirect consequences of conflicts across Africa, Asia and the Americas 1995 and 2015.

Co-author and Senior Associate Dean for Global Health and Director of the Centre for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. Michele Barry, observed: “Given the changing nature of armed conflicts, this series underscores the importance of a humanitarian response that includes the empowerment of local communities and leaders, as they are best able to deliver life-saving services, services that rely on a community’s capabilities, perceptions and trust.”

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