Health

Every child has the right to survive and thrive.

A six-month-old, just vaccinated, lies peacefully in a health clinic.
UNICEF/UN0303596/Herwig

All children have the right to survive and thrive. Yet, children and adolescents still face significant challenges surviving past infancy and developing to their full potential.

In 2018, 6.2 million children and young adolescents died, mostly from preventable causes. Children under the age of 5 accounted for 5.3 million of these deaths – nearly half of whom were newborn babies.

Every five seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world.

What’s more, some 810 women die each day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Many of these deaths can be avoided. But inadequate access to quality health care and life-saving supplies still contributes significantly to preventable maternal and child deaths.

Disease, environmental hazard and the devastating effects of conflict, insecurity and demographic change also take a toll.

More than one in four deaths of children under the age of 5 can be attributed to unhealthy environments. Air pollution, chemicals and electronic waste also threaten the lives of older children and adolescents.

Adolescents are more exposed to accidents and injuries, unintended pregnancies and the physical, mental and economic repercussions of birth defects, HIV and AIDS, and non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.

For children and adolescents in emergency and humanitarian settings, health risks escalate. Life-saving health services are often unavailable or inaccessible, making newborns, children, adolescents and mothers particularly vulnerable to harm.

In the coming decades, demographic changes threaten to strain global health systems. Some 2 billion births are projected worldwide between 2018 and 2050. Africa remains the world’s only region anticipating a substantial increase in births, with repercussions for thinly stretched health systems. In Asia, ageing populations are also expected to put pressure on health systems.

A smiling mother holds her alert six-month-old on her lap in a community centre in South Sudan.
UNICEF/UN0232350
Baby Hadja, 6 months old, with mother Esther Tabu, 24 years old, at a community outreach point in Juba, South Sudan.

UNICEF's work in health

Despite the scale of the challenge, solutions are in sight. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires a global shift from treating diseases to strengthening health systems so that all children, adolescents and women of reproductive age have access to affordable, quality health care.

UNICEF works around the world – including in some of the hardest-to-reach places – to help children survive and thrive. Through public and private partnerships at the global, national and community levels, we focus on:

Maternal, newborn and child survival

UNICEF works to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by scaling up essential maternal and newborn care services, sustaining immunization programmes, and supporting preventive, promotive and curative services for pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and other child health conditions.

Child and adolescent health and well-being

UNICEF is committed to helping children and adolescents build a solid foundation for adulthood. We support national health plans on adolescent health and well-being, improve age-specific health services for children and adolescents, and help countries combat non-communicable diseases, prevent injuries and better support children with developmental delays and disabilities.

Strengthening health systems

UNICEF supports primary health care, especially at the community level, to help achieve universal health coverage. We work to strengthen health systems to deliver integrated services for children, adolescents and women of reproductive age – focusing on health; nutrition; early childhood development; HIV and AIDS; and water, sanitation and hygiene. Our work also promotes overall health and well-being by focusing on education, child protection and social inclusion.

Health in emergencies and humanitarian settings

UNICEF tackles health challenges in places affected by conflicts, natural disasters, migration, urbanization, and political and economic instability, by supporting direct responses to emergencies and helping to develop resilient health systems that can withstand crises.

Resources

UNICEF Global Annual Results Report: Health, 2018

Read more about UNICEF’s progress expanding access to quality health care for children and adolescents around the globe.


UNICEF Health Strategy, 2016–2030

Read more about UNICEF’s approach to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths and promote the health and development of all children. 


Levels and Trends in Child Mortality, 2019

This report from UNICEF and partners shows the full scope of child mortality rates across the world, as well as the progress made towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal targets.


Every Child Alive: The Urgent Need to End Newborn Deaths

Read more about what needs to be done to accelerate global efforts to end preventable newborn deaths.


UNICEF Health Systems Strengthening Approach (Full version) (Summary)

Read more about UNICEF’s approach to building strong health systems that reach every child. 


UNICEF Data

UNICEF collects and disseminates comprehensive data on children’s health around the world.

UNICEF Health Newsletter