The Social Determinants of Women’s and Children’s Health

By Cherelle Leilani Latafale Fruean, YWCA of Samoa. She recently attended  The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) partners’ forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cherelle spoke on a panel Healthy Women and Children +Social Good.

The Effects of Climate Change on RMNCH (Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health) from a SIDS (Small Island Developing State) perspective.

Talofa lava and Good Afternoon, today I will be speaking on some of the effects of Climate Change on Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health (RMNCH), specifically from a Small Island Developing State Perspective.

Samoa and the Pacific Islands are amongst some of the most susceptible countries to climate change, with extreme weather events and natural disasters becoming more frequent, severe and unpredictable. 10389557_10202612227613360_7352717036546402737_n

There are four main effects of Climate Change on RMNCH that I’d like to highlight and they are: access to health services, infectious diseases, food insecurity and water sanitation and violence against women.

In times of natural disaster, health services and infrastructure including access to family planning and maternal health services become extremely limited if not non-existent. Women and girls are also at increased risk of sex-specific health issues such as sudden stoppage of menstruation, miscarriages, premature delivery and post-partum haemorrhage. Environmental changes such as deforestation can increase the occurrence of infectious diseases (especially those with an insect or animal vector, like malaria or dengue), to which pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable.

Women and children in the rural areas are one of the most endangered groups to health risks as they are known to live off the land .The effects of climate change decreases access to natural resources and reduces crop yields and surface water. Reduced food intake leaves pregnant women and girls more vulnerable, affecting maternal health and heightening the risks of child and maternal mortality, and malnutrition. The insufficient drinking water and/or water to use for sanitation, also leads to many health problems, including sexual and reproductive health problems.

It is also common, post-disaster, for displaced women and girls who are living in shelters to be exposed to unsafe situations, sexual exploitation and/or abuse. Violence against women almost triples during times of disaster, with pregnant women and girls, and children at the core of this very group. This affects not only their physical health but their mental health and emotional stability.

Now these are only a few of the effects of Climate Change that impact RMNCH specifically, but it is a cross-cutting issue that affects all areas of society and it is a very urgent concern. We as young people, the inheritors of the land, must partner with our leaders and states to build the capacity to develop innovative interventions that reverse the impact of Climate Change. We urge our leaders and states to take action now!

In two short months Samoa will host the UN’s Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Over 200 delegates including state leaders and influencers from the Pacific, Caribbean and Aims Region will attend. There will be a large youth delegation in active participation and the YWCA will be hosting a side event addressing “How Faith, Dignity, Culture and SRHR can aid in alleviating the effects of Poverty and Climate Change”. So with this, we have the amazing opportunity to let our voices be heard, let partnerships be strengthened and let change be made today.