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Good health allows children to learn, grow and develop, and sets
the foundation for adult life. Around nine million children die
globally each year before reaching adulthood, and one in ten live
with disability, mostly from preventable and treatable conditions.
Child and maternal health are intricately linked, and the first
year of life is the most vulnerable time. Infectious disease causes
the highest burden of illness and deaths in childhood, with
respiratory disease, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and HIV as the
main problems. Sexual and reproductive health, injury and mental
health are key priorities for adolescents. Creating an environment
that is safe and supports children’s health and development is an
essential foundation for future health.
An estimated two thirds of child deaths could be prevented by
using current effective interventions. Pneumonia and diarrhoea are
the commonest causes of child deaths after the newborn period, and
under nutrition contributes to over a third of deaths. Malaria,
injuries, HIV/AIDS and measles are the next most important causes
of death. Disability affects as least one in ten children in
developing countries, and the key causes are premature birth,
malnutrition, infections, and injury.
Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and
Child Health knowledge portal – resource of policy and practice
including country reports on systems and strategies, effective
interventions, essential commodities, human resources, economics
and financing, and accountability and tracking.
Children are most vulnerable in the first year of life. More
than 40% of deaths under five years occur in the first four weeks
of life (neonatal deaths), with three quarters in the first week
after birth. Nearly a third of neonatal deaths are due to
prematurity and low birth weight, a quarter from birth asphyxia and
birth trauma, and another quarter from neonatal infections.
Guidelines are available for newborn resuscitation in low resource
settings. Exclusive breastfeeding, with complementary feeding
after six months, full immunisation, hygiene, prevention of
infection, and management of infectious diseases, are central to
early child survival. A programme of checks for neonatal home
visits has been developed by WHO and UNICEF. For premature babies
Kangaroo Mother Care is recommended, where the baby is carried
skin-to-skin with the mother to maintain warmth, encourage
breastfeeding, and reduce infection. WHO guidelines for
resource-limited settings are available for routine newborn care,
care of small and preterm babies, dealing with complications, and
managing sick babies.
WHO Basic Newborn Resuscitation: a practical guide
and UNICEF. Home visits for the newborn child: a strategy to
Kangaroo Mother Care – a practical guide.
Integrated Management of Pregnancy and Childbirth. Managing newborn
problems – a guide for doctors, nurses and midwives. A clinical
guide to assessment, diagnosis and management of sick or small
newborn babies at health facilities.
recommended interventions for improving maternal and newborn
health – tables listing key actions for health services,
families and communities for maternal and newborn healthcare
Preventable communicable disease causes illness and disability,
and accounts for about half of childhood deaths. Preventing
infection through hygiene, safe water and sanitation, good coverage
of immunisations and vitamin A, use of insecticide-treated bed nets
to prevent malaria, and treatment to prevent HIV infection passing between
the mother and baby are key interventions. The five infections
that cause most deaths are pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and HIV. Death rates from syphilis,
tuberculosis and meningitis are
higher in the first five years of life. Dengue, Japanese
encephalitis, leischmaniasis and trypanosomiasis are important in
some regions. Polio, sleeping sickness, malaria and meningitis are
causes of disability. Intestinal parasites reduce nutritional
status and health.
WHO recommended routine immunisation policy for
WHO information on
diseases and vaccines
Effective identification and treatment of childhood illness is
currently low. The WHO programme for Integrated Management of
Childhood Illness is a system for assessment, diagnosis and
treatment of sick children for health workers, with materials to
support clinical work and training, identifying actions across the
health system, and for communities and families. Guidelines are
available for hospital care, and appropriate use of essential
medicines for children. Emergency triage, assessment and
treatment are important to identify children with
life-threatening conditions, and reduce deaths at health facilities
which often occur within 24 hours of admission.
Integrated Management of Childhood Illness - charts for first level
WHO Pocket Book of Hospital Care for
Children – Guidelines for the Management of Common Illnesses with
Limited Resources. Guidance for referral level facilities.
WHO Emergency Triage, Assessment and Treatment course -
WHO Priority Medicines for Mothers and Children 2011.
Indications and administration of essential medicines for reducing
deaths and illness in mothers and children under 5 years.
Adolescents have specific health and development needs. Choices
for lifestyle and health in adolescence set the pattern for adult
life. Sexual and reproductive health are particular concerns. An
estimated 45% of new HIV infections in 2007 affected people aged 15
to 24 years. About 16 million or 11% of births worldwide are to
women aged 15 to 19 years, and complications of pregnancy and
childbirth are a leading cause of death globally for women of this
age. Adolescents are at particular risk of violence and road
traffic injury, and harm from hazardous working conditions.
Psychosocial support is important for health and wellbeing.
Preventing use of tobacco and substance misuse are important. There
is limited global information on adolescent health and health
behaviours to inform policy.
WHO adolescent health documents. Research reviews and policy on
health and services for adolescents, including sexual and
reproductive health, HIV and mental health.
UNICEF State of the
World’s Children 2011. Adolescence: an age of opportunity.
Children’s health and wellbeing relies on their families and
communities, and the need for a safe environment that supports
their development, growth and nutrition. Poverty is linked to
poorer child health and higher child deaths. Children and
young people are more severely affected by crisis and disaster, and
may become vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Good nutrition is a foundation for health and development, with
appropriate and varied foods in adequate amounts, as well as
essential micronutrients. Under nutrition increases susceptibility
to illness and death in childhood, and, in the long term, limits
growth, social and intellectual development.
The physical environment causes significant health problems,
particularly from inadequate drinking water and sanitation, indoor
air pollution, and injuries. The Healthy Environments for Children
Alliance is promoting action to reduce risks. Injury is a leading
cause of childhood deaths and disability worldwide, mostly from
road traffic accidents, drowning, burns, falls and poisoning.
Children and young people - wider issues affecting health and
the needs of vulnerable children
Resources for child
health, including development and disability.
Resources on infant and young child feeding
WHO Healthy Environments for Children Factsheet. Low cost,
effective measures to reduce environmental threats to children’s
Development Goal 4 aims to reduce deaths in children under 5
years. In 2009, globally 8.1 million children died before
they were 5 years old. The greatest problem is in sub-Saharan
Africa where 1 in 8 children die under 5 years, and Southern Asia
where it is 1 in 14. Since 1990, the global child mortality under 5
years has fallen by about a third, but more than 7 in 10 priority
countries are not seeing a reduction in child deaths that would
meet current targets. The Global Strategy for
Women and Children’s Health recommends country-led health
plans, essential interventions and services with integrated care,
health system strengthening and building workforce capacity,
supported by coordinated research and innovation
Country profiles show the most recent available information for
mother and child health:
Countdown 2015 - key maternal and child health intervention
Making Pregnancy Safer - maternal and newborn health
UNICEF children’s health and wellbeing
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