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Study Tracking Progress In Maternal, Child Health Highlights Inequities In Intervention Coverage

According to a study published in the Lancet on Saturday, researchers from the University of Pelotas in Brazil tracking progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5 — which promote maternal and child health — “discovered that the most equitable intervention was early initiation of breast feeding, and that the attendance of a skilled person at birth proved to be the least equitable intervention,” Medical News Today reports. “The findings furthermore revealed that community-based interventions were more equally distributed in comparison with those delivered in health facilities,” MNT writes, noting that the “most inequitable countries of the evaluated interventions were Chad, Ethiopia, Laos, Nigeria, Niger and Somalia, followed by India, Madagascar and Pakistan, with the most equitable countries being Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan” (Rattue, 4/2).

UNICEF Launches Social Media Campaign To Raise Awareness Of Malnutrition Among Children In Sahel Region

UNICEF on Tuesday launched a social media campaign “to raise awareness about children in the Sahel region in northern Africa who are in urgent need of food aid,” CNN reports. UNICEF estimates that one million children in the region are at risk of starvation, and the U.N. says more than 10 million people risk severe acute malnutrition, the news agency notes. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, “the main causes of the humanitarian crisis in the region are ‘drought, chronic poverty, high food prices, displacement and conflict,'” CNN writes. The campaign also aims to raise funds for the crisis, as UNICEF reports having only $30 million of a $120 million appeal in its coffers, according to the news agency (4/3).

Improved Access To Family Planning In Africa Will Lead To Economic Development

Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation writes in an opinion piece in Nigeria’s Vanguard, “My top priority as a co-chair of the foundation I run with my husband is making sure that all families have access to safe and effective contraception tools that empower them to make a decision about what’s best for them and their family. And that means encouraging aid donors and governments here in Nigeria and across Africa to make family planning a priority.” Improved access to modern methods of contraception and child spacing would save millions of lives, “[b]ut family planning doesn’t just save lives; it also makes life better for families and communities, becoming a key driver of economic development,” Gates continues.

Advocates For Youth Report Examines Youth Policies Within PEPFAR

A new report from Advocates for Youth “analyzes youth policies within the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), including its legislative authority, most recent five-year strategy, relevant guidance documents, and all 21 currently available PEPFAR country Partnership Frameworks” and includes “a set of recommendations for the U.S. Congress, [Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC)], and Partner Country governments, to design and implement the bold policy needed to support youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, including promotion of comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly, integrated, HIV and family planning services,” Advocates for Youth Executive Vice President Debra Hauser writes in an RH Reality Check blog post. She concludes, “In the end, it is young people who hold the key to ending this epidemic. That’s why they should be at the center, not the periphery, of our programs and policies” (4/3).

Exclusive Breastfeeding Policy Implemented In South Africa Amidst Criticism

On Sunday, South Africa’s nine provinces began promoting the Tshwane Declaration, which “states unequivocal support for [exclusive breastfeeding (EBF)] for all infants up to six months, including HIV-exposed infants, who should receive antiretrovirals (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), as recommended in the 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines,” Inter Press Service reports. “But despite the clarity of the policy and its supporting data, vocal critics, including respected individuals from leading medical and academic institutions, have decried the choice,” the news service writes.

South Sudan Hoping To Mark Three Years Without Recording Polio Case

“South Sudan officials are hopeful the country will soon be declared polio-free,” if the nation can go another four months without recording a polio case, VOA News reports. “Before 2008, the area that is now South Sudan had been considered free of polio,” but “[t]hat year the country was re-infected through an imported strain that originated in Nigeria,” the news service writes. The country has not recorded a new case in more than 32 months, Abdi Aden Mohamed, head of the WHO in South Sudan, said, adding, “We are very cautious in the sense of there are a number of countries surrounding South Sudan that cases might be here and there,” according to VOA. Volunteers working to vaccinate every child under the age of six recently concluded the country’s 24th immunization campaign since polio reappeared in the nation, the news service notes (Green, 3/30).

Somaliland Officials Appeal For Food Aid, Water For Thousands Of Families Affected By Drought

“Officials in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, [in] northwestern Somalia, are appealing for food aid and potable water for thousands of families who have lost their livelihoods in the current drought,” IRIN reports. “In February, [the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP)] provided food assistance to nearly 150,000 people in Somaliland, according to Challiss McDonough, WFP’s senior spokesperson for East, Central and Southern Africa,” according to the news service. Food insecurity in some areas is classified at “crisis level,” with children, expectant and nursing mothers, and the elderly most affected, IRIN notes. “WFP is shifting its focus from emergency assistance towards targeted programs, including building reservoirs, wells and roads which support communities’ resilience to seasonal shocks, according to spokesperson McDonough, who said that in the past year WFP had doubled the number of nutrition programs in Somalia,” the news service writes (3/30).

Family Planning Bill May Get Vote In Philippines Congress, Bloomberg News Reports

Bloomberg News examines family planning in the Philippines, where “[o]ne in five women of reproductive age … have an unmet family planning need, the U.N. Population Fund says, leading to unintended pregnancies and population growth twice the Asian average.” The article focuses on a reproductive health bill in the country’s congress that would allow for “free or subsidized contraception, especially for the poor.” The bill “has been re-filed and blocked in each three-year congressional term since it was introduced in legislature 14 years ago amid opposition from the Catholic Church,” according to Bloomberg. However, with support from President Benigno Aquino, the bill “may be put to a vote in congress in three months,” the news service notes (Khan/Aquino, 3/27).

Malaria Funding Has Helped Prevent Nearly 1M Child Deaths Over Past Decade, Study Finds

The results of a study (.pdf) published in Malaria Journal “suggest that funding for malaria prevention in Africa over the past decade has had a substantial impact on decreasing child deaths due to malaria,” according to the study’s abstract. Between 2001 and 2011, malaria prevention intervention scale-up helped prevent an estimated 842,800 malaria-related child deaths, an 8.2 percent decrease over the period had malaria intervention remained unchanged since 2000. The researchers note that 99 percent of the decline can be attributed to the use of insecticide-treated bednets. “Rapidly achieving and then maintaining universal coverage of these interventions should be an urgent priority for malaria control programs in the future,” the study concludes (Eisele et al., 3/28).

Pakistan’s Draft Bill That Would Punish Parents For Not Vaccinating Children ‘Misses The Mark’

“Eradicating polio and improving the health of millions of children in Pakistan depend quite heavily on assuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines,” but “[t]he most recent policy prescription from the Pakistani parliament to improve immunization coverage, however, misses the mark, and badly,” Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, writes in this Huffington Post “World” blog post. “A draft bill being finalized in the Pakistani parliament would require compulsory vaccination of all children, and would introduce tough penalties — including fines and imprisonment — for parents of unvaccinated children,” Levine says. However, supply issues may prevent some parents from being able to vaccinate children, and the threat of punishment may force some to falsify immunization records, he notes.