LONDON (AlertNet) – At least 350 million children worldwide will live their whole lives without ever seeing a health worker, resulting in millions of deaths each year from easily preventable diseases, a global children’s charity said on Monday.
In Africa, where people shoulder a quarter of the planet’s disease burden, children have access to just 3 percent of the world’s health workers, Save the Children said in a report that highlighted a shortfall of 3.5 million health workers worldwide.
“It is simply not acceptable for a child to die because a midwife or a nurse is out of reach,” Patrick Watt, director of policy and research at Save the Children, said in a statement.
“Training health workers is simple and inexpensive, yet their impact is immeasurable. Hundreds of children’s lives will be saved by the vaccinations a health worker administers, or by the trained help they can give to pregnant mothers.”
The World Health Organization considers a ratio of 2.3 health workers per 1,000 people to be the minimum acceptable threshold.
In countries below that threshold, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Liberia, children are five times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children elsewhere, Save the Children said.
The report, “No Child out of Reach”, comes as world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York for a two-day summit on tackling non-communicable diseases, where aid agencies will be pushing for more funding to train health workers.
Under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global leaders are committed to reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.
Save the Children said the few countries on track to achieve that goal – such as Bangladesh and Nepal – had slashed infant mortality by investing in community health workers.
The highest child mortality rates globally are in sub-Sahara Africa, where one in seven children die before the age of five, according to the United Nations. The area accounted for half of the 8.8 million deaths of children under five worldwide in 2008.
Earlier this month, Save the Children released an index of the world’s worst places for a child to fall sick, which ranked Chad, Somalia, Laos and Ethiopia as the most dangerous and Switzerland, Finland, Ireland and Norway as the safest.
Save the Children cites a number of underlying causes for the global health worker crisis, including lack of education in developing countries; “brain drain” of skilled health workers; ineffective funding and chronic under-investment in health from both rich and poor countries.
In rapidly developing countries such as China, which ranks in the middle of Save the Children’s index, the charity noted a big difference between urban and rural areas.
“Trained health workers and advanced equipment are easily accessible in big cities,” said Qian Xiaofeng, Save the Children’s communications manager in China. “Yet in rural areas, theseresources are quite slim.”
Click here to see more videos on Save the Children's health work in India and Nigeria.