Maternal and child health

Young children need nutritious food, access to health services, clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to grow up healthy, learn and reach their full potential.

A mother with her baby in Nepal

In many countries, significant numbers of children are malnourished or too unhealthy to learn and thrive. Malnutrition is associated with nearly half of child deaths and negatively impacts children’s brain development and learning.

What factors lead to malnutrition in young children?

  • Recurrent illnesses (such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea)
  • Inadequate feeding and lack of responsive care
  • Poor maternal health and nutrition
  • Parents’ or caregivers’ inability to source or afford a variety of nutritious food
  • The location children grow up in, such as rural and remote areas or those affected by conflict, disasters or the effects of climate change.

What is Plan International’s approach to maternal and child health?

Promoting maternal, new-born and child health and nutrition is a priority area of Plan International’s work on early childhood development. Our work in this area can be integrated together with our sexual and reproductive health programmes and those on water, sanitation and hygiene.

We focus on:

  • Supporting families to improve the health of their children, prevent disease and care for common illnesses at home
  • Promoting good feeding practices such as exclusive breastfeeding during children’s first 6 months, complimentary feeding from the age of 6 months and continued breast feeding until children are 2
  • Expanding access to quality, essential services. This includes services which prevent and manage malnutrition and common childhood illnesses and those which provide basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care
  • Strengthening community health networks and primary level health services
  • Training and supporting community health workers
  • Influencing and supporting health authorities to increase the preparedness of healthcare systems to respond to crises including disasters and pandemics.

Health and gender equality strengthened in 5 countries

We’re removing barriers to quality health services girls and young women face in Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria and Senegal to reduce maternal and child mortality.

How does our work on maternal and child health promote gender equality?

  • We support adolescent girls and women to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence to adopt good health practices. We also support them to use, demand and participate in the governance of key services.
  • We promote men’s positive engagement in and support for the health and wellbeing of their children and female partners.
  • We train health workers and improve regulations and infrastructure so health services meet the specific needs of girls and young women in a way that respects their dignity, rights and decision-making.

In 2019, 5.2 million children under the age of 5 died largely of preventable causes.

In 2020, acute malnutrition affected an estimated 49.5 million children under 5

Increased malnutrition caused by COVID-19 together with reductions in routine health care could cause an additional 2 million deaths in children under 5 in a year.

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