AS A father to two children who were born prematurely, ensuring that mothers and babies get the right pre- and post-natal care is an issue that is close to my heart. While there is much more that can and should be done to support parents and newborns in the UK, we are fortunate that there is a basic level of health care which we can take for granted: a hospital bed, the presence of medical staff during childbirth, and access to early childhood vaccinations. Sadly, this is not universally true.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a higher under-fives mortality rate than anywhere else in the world. In the small West African country of Togo, one in 25 babies does not reach the age of one, and women have a one-in-58 chance of dying in pregnancy or during childbirth. While these statistics are undeniably bleak, the situation is not without hope.
Togo, like so many other countries in the developing South, has come a long way in the past few decades. While child mortality stood at 14.5 per cent in 1990, by 2019 this was down 6.7 per cent. This represents a huge step forwards and reflects, among other factors, a significant investment from international humanitarian efforts.
One organisation working in this area is Compassion UK, through its “Child Survival Interventions”. Thanks to UK aid, it was able to open 23 new projects in 2020. I recently led a virtual cross-party delegation to one such project. Via a temperamental internet link to rural Kévé, 56km from the capital of Lomé, we toured one project’s facilities — baby mats and toys, mattresses and sanitation stations, all set in a clean and bright building with colourful paintings on the walls.
In this space, new and expectant mothers receive health check-ups, breastfeeding guidance, emotional support, and training in income-generating skills. This critical basic provision enables vulnerable mothers and children to have a safer and healthier start in the baby’s first year of life.
GIVEN the life-changing impacts of humanitarian projects such as Compassion’s, the Government’s plans to cut the UK aid budget from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP (News, 27 November 2020) are of great concern.
While children have not been the primary Covid-19 sufferers, they nevertheless stand, as UNICEF has observed, to be its greatest victims, owing to the secondary effects of the pandemic. Limited or no access to health care and schooling, combined with reduced food and household security, has meant that the holistic development of children already living in poverty has taken a sore blow.
While vulnerable children will be carrying the weight of this pandemic for years to come, they are typically voiceless here and now. They cannot shout and fight back if support is withdrawn from them.
It is, therefore, incumbent on the UK to work in favour of children. Aid is essential to stop preventable newborn and child deaths in the global South, and to provide children with the necessities to survive and thrive. Acting now will lessen the financial and human cost in the future, moving the world back in the right direction of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
IN THIS week, when we honour women with International Women’s Day and prepare for Mothering Sunday, it is right to reflect on the lived reality of mothers and children who are in poverty while battling a pandemic.
If their modest needs can be taken into account in government policies and finances, the UK will be able to show genuine solidarity towards women, beyond the simple pleasantries that will, no doubt, be extended this week.
David Linden MP is the SNP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Work and Pensions. He chairs the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Premature and Sick Babies, and the APPG on Nutrition for Growth.