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02/26/2020
Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore on the disruption of immunization and basic health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/statement-unicef-executive-director-henrietta-fore-disruption-immunization-and-basic
: “Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health services as health workers are diverted to support the response. “Physical distancing is leading parents to make the difficult decision to defer routine immunization. “Medical goods are in short supply and supply chains are under historic strain due to transport disruptions. Flight cancellations and trade restrictions by countries have severely constrained access to essential medicines, including vaccines. “As the pandemic progresses, critical life-saving services, including immunization, will likely be disrupted, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East where they are sorely needed. “At the greatest risk are children from the poorest families in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters. “We are particularly concerned about countries that are battling measles, cholera or polio outbreaks while responding to COVID-19 cases, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Philippines, Syria and South Sudan. Not only would such outbreaks tax already stretched health services, they could also lead to additional loss of lives and suffering. At a time like this, these countries can ill-afford to face additional outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. “The message is clear: We must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19. “UNICEF is committed to supporting basic health care and immunization needs in the worst affected countries, and to doing so in a way that limits the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We are working hard to ensure adequate vaccine supplies are available in countries that need them. We are in close communication with global vaccine suppliers to ensure production is not disrupted and supply is managed in the best possible manner under these difficult circumstances. We are also providing greater support to governments to continue the supply of vaccines during this pandemic.   “In the days to come, governments may have to temporarily postpone preventive mass vaccination campaigns in many places to ensure that the delivery of immunization services does not contribute to COVID-19 spread, and to follow recommendations on physical distancing. “UNICEF strongly recommends that all governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control. These vaccination activities must focus on children who will miss vaccine doses during this period of interruption and prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable children. To successfully roll-out vaccines against COVID -19 when they become available, we need to ensure that our immunization programmes remain robust and can reach those that will need these vaccines the most.    “Immunization remains a life-saving health intervention. As the world's biggest buyer and supplier of vaccines, UNICEF will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting governments’ current and future immunization efforts.” Nurse Milka Babic performs immunization UNICEF/UNI218376/Pancic
04/25/2017
UNICEF reaches almost half of the world’s children with life-saving vaccines
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/half-children-life-saving-vaccines
– UNICEF procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccines to children in nearly 100 countries in 2016, reaching almost half of the world’s children under the age of five. The figures, released during World Immunization Week, make UNICEF the largest buyer of vaccines for children in the world.  Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio-endemic countries, each received more doses of vaccines than any other country, with almost 450 million doses of vaccines procured to children in Nigeria, 395 million in Pakistan and over 150 million in Afghanistan. UNICEF is the lead procurement agency for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Access to immunization has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under five from vaccine-preventable diseases, and has brought the world closer to eradicating polio. Between 2000 and 2015, under five deaths due to measles declined by 85 per cent and those due to neonatal tetanus by 83 per cent. A proportion of the 47 per cent reduction in pneumonia deaths and 57 per cent reduction in diarrhea deaths in this time is also attributed to vaccines. Yet an estimated 19.4 million children around the world still miss out on full vaccinations every year. Around two thirds of all unvaccinated children live in conflict-affected countries. Weak health systems, poverty and social inequities also mean that 1 in 5 children under five is still not reached with life-saving vaccines. “All children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, have the right to survive and thrive, safe from deadly diseases,” said Dr. Robin Nandy, Chief of Immunization at UNICEF. “Since 1990, immunization has been a major reason for the substantial drop in child mortality, but despite this progress, 1.5 million children still die from vaccine preventable diseases every year.” Inequalities persist between rich and poor children. In countries where 80 per cent of the world’s under-five child deaths occur, over half of the poorest children are not fully vaccinated. Globally, the poorest children are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of five as the richest. “In addition to children living in rural communities where access to services is limited, more and more children living in overcrowded cities and slum dwellings are also missing out on vital vaccinations,” said Nandy. “Overcrowding, poverty, poor hygiene and sanitation as well as inadequate nutrition and health care increase the risk of diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and measles in these communities; diseases that are easily preventable with vaccines.” By 2030, an estimated 1 in 4 people will live in urban poor communities, mainly in Africa and Asia, meaning the focus and investment of immunization services must be tailored to the specific needs of these communities and children, UNICEF said.    
07/16/2018
Record number of infants vaccinated in 2017
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/record-number-infants-vaccinated-2017
: A record 123 million infants were immunized globally in 2017, according to data released today by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.  The data shows that: 9 out of every 10 infants received at least one dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine in 2017, gaining protection against these deadly diseases.   An additional 4.6 million infants were vaccinated globally with three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine in 2017 compared to 2010, due to global population growth. 167 countries included a second dose of measles vaccine as part of their routine vaccination schedule and 162 countries now use rubella vaccines. As a result, global coverage against rubella increased from 35 per cent in 2010 to 52 per cent.   The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in 80 countries to help protect women against cervical cancer.  Newly available vaccines are being added as part of the life-saving vaccination package – such as those to protect against meningitis, malaria and even Ebola. Despite these successes, almost 20 million children did not receive the benefits of full immunization in 2017. Of these, almost 8 million (40 per cent) live in fragile or humanitarian settings, including countries affected by conflict. In addition, a growing share are from middle-income countries, where inequity and marginalization, particularly among the urban poor, prevent many from getting immunized.  As populations grow, more countries need to increase their investments in immunization programmes. To reach all children with much-needed vaccines, the world will need to vaccinate an estimated 20 million additional children every year with three doses of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP3); 45 million with a second dose of measles vaccine; and 76 million children with 3 doses of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.  In support of these efforts, WHO and UNICEF are working to expand access to immunization by:  Strengthening the quality, availability and use of vaccine coverage data.  Better targeting resources. Planning actions at sub-national levels and Ensuring that vulnerable people can access vaccination services.   
04/13/2020
More than 117 million children at risk of missing out on measles vaccines, as COVID-19 surges
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/more-117-million-children-risk-missing-out-measles-vaccines-covid-19-surges
 “As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine. Measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries have already been delayed; more will be postponed. “During this challenging period, the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) expresses solidarity with families, communities, governments and emergency responders and joins our global immunization and health partners, including those within Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in our collective focus and fight against the threat of COVID-19. The pandemic sweeping the globe requires a coordinated effort and commitment of resources to ensure frontline health workers around the world are protected, as they face and respond to this new threat. At the same time, we must also champion efforts to protect essential immunization services, now and for the future. “The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new  guidelines  endorsed by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization -- to help countries to sustain immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines recommend that governments temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. M&RI partners, which include the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation and WHO, strongly agree with these recommendations. We also urge countries to continue routine immunization services, while ensuring the safety of communities and health workers. The recommendations also ask governments to undertake a careful risk-benefit analysis when deciding whether to delay vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks, with the possibility of postponement where risks of COVID-19 transmission are deemed unacceptably high. “If the difficult choice to pause vaccination is made due to the spread of COVID-19, we urge leaders to intensify efforts to track unvaccinated children, so that the most vulnerable populations can be provided with measles vaccines as soon as it becomes possible to do so. While we know there will be many demands on health systems and frontline workers during and beyond the threat of COVID-19, delivering all immunization services, including measles vaccines, is essential to saving lives that would otherwise be lost to vaccine-preventable diseases. “The M&RI supports the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19 through a pause of mass campaigns, where risks of the disease are high. However, this should not mean that children permanently miss out. Urgent efforts must be taken now at local, national, regional and global levels to prepare to close the immunity gaps that the measles virus will exploit, by ensuring that vaccines are available and that they reach children and vulnerable populations, as quickly as possible, to keep them safe. “Despite having a safe and effective vaccine for over 50 years, measles cases surged over recent years and claimed more than 140,000 lives in 2018, mostly of children and babies – all of which were preventable. Against this already dangerous backdrop, preventive and responsive measles vaccination campaigns have now been paused or postponed in 24 countries to help avert further spread of COVID-19. Campaigns expected to take place later in 2020 in an additional 13 countries may not be implemented. Together, more than 117 million children in 37 countries, many of whom live in regions with ongoing measles outbreaks, could be impacted by the suspension of scheduled immunization activities. This staggering number does not include the number of infants that may not be vaccinated because of the effect of COVID-19 on routine immunization services.  Children younger than 12 months of age are more likely to die from measles complications, and if the circulation of measles virus is not stopped, their risk of exposure to measles will increase daily.   “The M&RI salutes the heroism of health and emergency workers across the globe, and we recognize the vital role they play in delivering clear, trusted information, as well as preventive and supportive care within their communities. We must invest in health workers and ensure they are protected from infection and empowered as part of sustainable and functioning primary health systems. They are the first line of defense against global epidemics. We also recognize the role of parents and caregivers in ensuring their children are vaccinated by following physical distancing recommendations in line with national guidance. Finally, we call on countries and local leaders to implement effective communication strategies to engage communities, ensure supply and demand for vaccination remains strong, and help assure a healthy life for every child especially in this challenging time.” #####  
12/04/2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to enter a new phase, UNICEF reminds the world that ‘the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all’
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/covid-19-pandemic-begins-enter-new-phase-unicef-reminds-world-light-end-tunnel-needs
 “COVID-19 is the first truly global crisis we have seen in our lifetimes. No matter where we live, the pandemic affects every one of us. Children have been seriously impacted. However, with more news about promising vaccines, and as we begin to imagine a day when COVID-19 is behind us, our guiding principle must be that the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all. “This is why UNICEF has enthusiastically joined the Advance Market Commitment of the COVAX Facility to allow low- and lower-middle income countries access to COVID-19 vaccines. It is the best way to make sure that, as vaccines become available, no country is pushed to the back of the line. This would not only be fundamentally unfair, it would be unwise. The whole world will remain vulnerable to the virus until countries with the weakest health systems are protected from it as well. “In order for the COVAX Facility to work and guarantee equitable and affordable access to low- and lower-middle income countries, we need a global commitment to support and capitalize it, but also to finance the delivery of vaccines and associated supplies such as syringes and safety boxes. Governments must work together to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are affordable and accessible to all countries. High-income countries should invest financially in the Advance Market Commitment and in UNICEF’s COVID-19 vaccine delivery efforts. All countries should take a strong stand against export controls on – and unnecessary stockpiling of – commodities for the COVID-19 response.  “UNICEF is also leveraging our unique strengths in community engagement and vaccine supply to make sure that countries participating in the COVAX Facility have safe, fast and equitable access to the vaccine. This is an enormous undertaking and many challenges still lay ahead.  As the largest vaccine buyer in the world,  procuring more than 2 billion doses  annually for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries, UNICEF is c oordinating and supporting  the procurement,  international freight , and in-country distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for the COVAX Facility. “Together with WHO, PAHO, GAVI and other partners at the global and regional levels, UNICEF is also working to support countries to ‘ready’ their immunization programmes for this historic roll-out. This includes assessing capacity and helping countries to strengthen their cold and supply chains so that they have adequate infrastructure to transport and store the vaccines for delivery to the frontlines. “However, the existence of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine alone will not end the pandemic. We need a diverse set of tools to help slow the spread of COVID-19, including diagnostics and treatments, as well as a continuance of preventive measures such as hand washing, physical distancing and mask wearing. UNICEF is providing governments with access to personal protective equipment, validated testing approaches, and proven treatments. In addition, UNICEF continues to work with multilateral partners to support governments with infection prevention control, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, physical distancing, surveillance, contact tracing, case identification and community referral systems to stem the pandemic. “Lastly, we continue to help countries ensure the continuity of key essential services for women, children and young people – especially the most vulnerable. COVID-19 related disruptions have had a heavy impact on children: on their safety, their well-being, their future. Even as the fight against the disease enters into a hopeful new phase, we must not forget the work ahead of us to respond, recover and reimagine a better world for children.” ###
02/14/2018
Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse of children: Actions and commitments
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/tackling-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-children-actions-and-commitments
– “Sexual exploitation and abuse of children under any circumstances is reprehensible. No organization is immune from this scourge and we are continuously working to better address it. When it comes to the protection of children, we are determined to act. There is no room for complacency.  “As UNICEF’s Executive Director, I have put this issue at the top of our agenda and we are committed to strong action and transparency within UNICEF. “To make sure we are doing everything possible, we are commissioning an independent review of our procedures and I will make its recommendations public. “My team is also exploring ways to use technology to quickly assess the risks of sexual exploitation of abuse, and facilitate safe and confidential reporting by the victims.  “Starting in locations where the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is higher, we are implementing more stringent vetting of all personnel and improving safety and protection around children in our operations. “These new measures add to the strong and determined actions we have taken over the years to prevent the abuse of children and respond to the needs of those affected, building on the lessons we have learned and a regular assessment of our approaches:  We have made the reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory, through a notification alert that reports information to me within 24 hours. We have scaled up our assistance to victims and are providing them with safe and confidential support; We are rolling-out community-based complaint mechanisms;  We have strengthened our investigations unit; and  We have made training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory.  “We have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, and we remain committed to continually learning and improving. We want justice for the child victims and are determined to work with all partners to achieve it.” Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore.
10/19/2017
7,000 newborns die every day, despite steady decrease in under-five mortality, new report says
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/7000-newborns-die-every-day
– Every day in 2016, 15,000 children died before their fifth birthday, 46 per cent of them – or 7,000 babies – died in the first 28 days of life, according to a new UN report.  Levels and Trends in Child Mortality 2017, reveals that although the number of children dying before the age of five is at a new low– 5.6 million in 2016, compared with nearly 9.9 million in 2000 – the proportion of under-five deaths in the newborn period has increased from 41 per cent to 46 per cent during the same period. “The lives of 50 million children under-five have been saved since 2000, a testament to the serious commitment by governments and development partners to tackle preventable child deaths,” said UNICEF Chief of Health, Stefan Swartling Peterson. “But unless we do more to stop babies from dying the day they are born, or days after their birth, this progress will remain incomplete. We have the knowledge and technologies that are required – we just need to take them where they are most needed.” At current trends, 60 million children will die before their fifth birthday between 2017 and 2030, half of them newborns, according to the report released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the Population Division of UNDESA which make up the Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (IGME) Most newborn deaths occurred in two regions: Southern Asia (39 per cent) and sub-Saharan Africa (38 per cent). Five countries accounted for half of all new-born deaths: India (24 per cent), Pakistan (10 per cent), Nigeria (9 per cent), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (4 per cent) and Ethiopia (3 per cent). “To achieve universal health coverage and ensure more newborns survive and thrive, we must serve marginalized families," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health at WHO. "To prevent illness, families require financial power, their voices to be heard and access to quality care. Improving quality of services and timely care during and after childbirth must be prioritized.” The report notes that many lives can be saved if global inequities are reduced. If all countries achieved the average mortality of high-income countries, 87 per cent of under-five deaths could have been averted and almost 5 million lives could have been saved in 2016. “It is unconscionable that in 2017, pregnancy and child birth are still life-threatening conditions for women, and that 7,000 newborns die daily,” said Tim Evans, Senior Director of Health Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group. “The best measure of success for Universal Health Coverage is that every mother should not only be able to access health care easily, but that it should be quality, affordable care that will ensure  a healthy and productive life for her children and family. We are committed to scaling up our financing to support country demand in this area, including through innovative mechanisms like the Global Financing Facility (GFF). ”  Pneumonia and diarrhea top the list of infectious diseases which claim the lives of millions of children under-five globally, accounting for 16 per cent and 8 per cent of deaths, respectively. Preterm birth complications and complications during labour or child birth were the causes of 30 per cent of newborn deaths in 2016. In addition to the 5.6 million under-5 deaths, 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year, the majority of which could be prevented. Ending preventable child deaths can be achieved by improving access to skilled health-professionals during pregnancy and at the time of birth; lifesaving interventions, such as immunization, breastfeeding and inexpensive medicines; and increasing access to water and sanitation, that are currently beyond the reach of the world’s poorest communities.  For the first time, mortality data for older children age 5 to 14 was included in the report, capturing other causes of death such as accidents and injuries. Approximately 1 million children aged 5 to 14 died in 2016. “This new report highlights the remarkable progress since 2000 in reducing mortality among children under age 5,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Mr. LIU Zhenmin. “Despite this progress, large disparities in child survival still exist across regions and countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet many deaths at these ages are easily preventable through simple, cost-effective interventions administered before, during and immediately after birth. Reducing inequities and reaching the most vulnerable newborns, children and mothers are essential for achieving the SDG target on ending preventable childhood deaths and for ensuring that no one will be left behind.”   The report also notes that: In sub-Saharan Africa, estimates show that 1 child in 36 dies in the first month, while in the world’s high income countries, the ratio is 1 in 333. Unless the rate of progress improves, more than 60 countries will miss the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end preventable deaths of newborns by 2030 and half would not meet the target of 12 neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births by 2050. These countries account for about 80 per cent of neonatal deaths in 2016.  Medical staff in Kyrgyzstan check over a newborn baby. UNICEF Kygryzstan/2017
09/10/2020
COVID-19 could reverse decades of progress toward eliminating preventable child deaths, agencies warn
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/covid-19-could-reverse-decades-progress-toward-eliminating-preventable-child-deaths
– The number of global under-five deaths dropped to its lowest point on record in 2019 – down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990,  according to new mortality estimates  released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group. Since then, however, surveys by UNICEF and WHO reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress. “The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “When children are denied access to health services because the system is overrun, and when women are afraid to give birth at the hospital for fear of infection, they, too, may become casualties of COVID-19. Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.” Over the past 30 years, health services to prevent or treat causes of child death such as preterm, low birthweight, complications during birth, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, as well as vaccination, have played a large role in saving millions of lives. Now countries worldwide are experiencing disruptions in child and maternal health services, such as health checkups, vaccinations and prenatal and post-natal care, due to resource constraints and a general uneasiness with using health services due to a fear of getting COVID-19. A  UNICEF survey  conducted over the summer across 77 countries found that almost 68 per cent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunization services. In addition, 63 per cent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 per cent in post-natal care. A  recent WHO survey  based on responses from 105 countries revealed that 52 per cent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 per cent in services for management of malnutrition. Health interventions such as these are critical for stopping preventable newborn and child deaths. For example, women who receive care by professional midwives trained according  to internationals standards are 16 per cent less likely to lose their baby and 24 per cent less likely to experience pre-term birth,  according to WHO . "The fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts health and well-being at the centre of our response,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Now, we must not let the COVID-19 pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations. Rather, it’s time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems.” Based on the responses from countries that participated in the UNICEF and WHO surveys, the most commonly cited reasons for health service disruptions included parents avoiding health centers for fear of infection; transport restrictions; suspension or closure of services and facilities; fewer healthcare workers due to diversions or fear of infection due to shortages in personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves; and greater financial difficulties. Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen are among the hardest hit countries. Seven of the nine countries had high child mortality rates of more than 50 deaths per 1000 live births among children under five in 2019. In Afghanistan, where 1 in 17 children died before reaching age 5 in 2019, the Ministry of Health reported a significant reduction in visits to health facilities. Out of fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, families are de-prioritizing pre- and post-natal care, adding to the risk faced by pregnant women and newborn babies. Even before COVID-19, newborns were at highest risk of death. In 2019, a newborn baby died every 13 seconds. Moreover, 47 per cent of all under-five deaths occurred in the neonatal period, up from 40 per cent in 1990. With severe disruptions in essential health services, newborn babies could be at much higher risk of dying. For example, in Cameroon, where 1 out of every 38 newborns died in 2019, the UNICEF survey reported an estimated 75 per cent disruptions in services for essential newborn care, antenatal check-ups, obstetric care and post-natal care. In May, initial modelling by Johns Hopkins University showed that  almost 6,000 additional children  could die per day due to disruptions due to COVID-19. These reports and surveys highlight the need for urgent action to restore and improve childbirth services and antenatal and postnatal care for mothers and babies, including having skilled health workers to care for them at birth. Working with parents to assuage their fears and reassure them is also important. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put years of global progress to end preventable child deaths in serious jeopardy,” said Muhammad Ali Pate, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank. “It is essential to protect life-saving services which have been key to reducing child mortality. We will continue to work with governments and partners to reinforce healthcare systems to ensure mothers and children get the services they need.” "The new report demonstrates the ongoing progress worldwide in reducing child mortality,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “While the report highlights the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on interventions that are critical for children’s health, it also draws attention to the need to redress the vast inequities in a child's prospects for survival and good health.” ###### A child and his mother while waiting to receive medical care UNICEF/UNI347480/Poveda
09/03/2020
World's richest countries grappling with children’s reading and math skills, mental well-being and obesity
https://www.unicef.org/eca/press-releases/worlds-richest-countries-grappling-childrens-reading-and-math-skills-mental-well
On average 40 per cent of children across all OECD and EU countries do not have basic reading and mathematics skills by age 15. Children in Bulgaria, Romania and Chile are the least proficient in these skills. Estonia, Ireland and Finland the most proficient. In most countries, at least 1 in 5 children lack confidence in their social skills to make new friends. Children in Chile, Japan and Iceland are the least confident in this area.   The report also contains data on clear areas of progress in child well-being. On average, 95 per cent of pre-school aged children are now enrolled in organized learning programmes, and the number of young people aged 15-19 not in education, employment or training has declined in 30 out of 37 countries. Yet, these important gains are at risk of falling back due to the impact of COVID-19. Countries are also ranked based on their policies that support child well-being and other factors including the economy, society and environment. Norway, Iceland and Finland have the highest-ranking policies and context to support child well-being. On average, countries spend less than 3 per cent of their GDP on family and child policies. “In times of crisis and calm, families need supportive governments and workplaces in order to raise the next generation of happy and healthy citizens,” said Fayaz King, Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF. “An investment in children is a direct investment in our future.” Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, in the first half of 2020 most of the countries covered in the report kept schools closed for more than 100 days while strict stay-at-home policies were also implemented. The report notes that loss of family members and friends, anxiety, stay-at-home restrictions, lack of support, school closures, the balancing of work and family life, poor access to healthcare, combined with the economic loss caused by the pandemic are catastrophic for children’s wellbeing, affecting their mental and physical health, and their development. Before the COVID-19 outbreak the average relative child poverty rate across the 41 countries was 20 per cent. With GDP expected to fall over a two-year period in almost all of these countries, unless governments take immediate remedial actions child poverty will rise. “As the economic, educational and social fallout of the pandemic continues to take hold, without concerted effort, there will be a worsening, devastating impact on the well-being of today’s children, their families and the societies they live in,” said Olsson. “But these risks do not have to become the reality, if governments take decisive action now to protect children’s well-being.” On the basis of the report and these recent developments UNICEF is calling for the following steps to protect and improve child wellbeing: Take decisive action to reduce income inequality and poverty and ensure that all children have access to the resources they need. Rapidly address the serious gap in mental health services for children and adolescents. Expand family-friendly policies to improve work-family balance, especially access to high-quality, flexible and affordable early-years childcare. Strengthen efforts to protect children from preventable diseases, including reversing recent falls in measles immunization. Improve COVID-19 policies that support families with children and ensure budgets that support child well-being are protected entirely from austerity measures.   ###