Health: Investing in social protection, ending violence against children, and providing universal healthcare could bear greater returns in future, say three new expert reports.

The reports – one on each focus area – that examine the evidence and data and make recommendations for future action are guiding the discussion among head of states and government leaders from 28 Asia-Pacific countries at a two-day event in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Bhutanese delegation is led by works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden, who is the chairperson of the National Commission for Women and Children.

The delegates are discussing ways to advance children’s rights in a number of critical areas.

The meeting seeks to foster ‘South-South Cooperation’ in order to make progress for children. Governments are looking at three specific focus areas, social protection, ending violence against children, and providing universal healthcare.

Reports conclude that investments made now in these areas will make a significant contribution to the region’s future and its prosperity.

“Human capital development is a critical enabler for driving and sustaining economic growth,” Malaysia’s Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, YB Dato Sri Rohani Abdul Karim Rohani, said. “The recent findings provide striking new evidence of the enormously high rate of return in further developing our human potential by focussing on social protection, preventing violence against children and ensuring universal health coverage.”

Statistics released earlier this month showed that about 43 percent of children under the age of five in low and middle-income countries are at risk of not achieving their full cognitive potential. The region is home to more than one billion children.

Addressing childhood and parental vulnerability and disadvantage contributes to economic growth and the best way to do this is for greater investment in social protection programmes, reads the UNICEF communiqué.

The paper ‘Cognitive Capital: Investing in Children to Generate Sustainable Growth’ found that investments in children, particularly in the earliest years, also yield dividends in realising human rights, reducing inequality and preventing deprivation and economic stagnation.

There is clear evidence that cognitive ability is markedly affected by childhood circumstances, right from the point of conception. Children who experience good nutrition, stimulation and supportive and secure environments are most likely to reach their full cognitive potential, the report states.

Investments that raise the capacity of people to think and learn and work together will help sustain the growth of economies. In modern economies and societies, cognitive capital underpins creativity and flexibility and determines human capability.

The paper ‘Preventing Violence against Children and how this contributes to Building Stronger Economies’ found that violence remains a common experience in the lives of children. It is estimated that more than one billion children are exposed to violence every year with the greatest burden falling on the Asia-Pacific region.

The report states that experiencing or witnessing violence in childhood can have a long-term ‘harmful’ impact on individuals. It also undermines countries’ social and economic development through an increased burden on health care systems, higher levels of violence and criminality, disability and even death.

UNICEF research shows that child maltreatment costs countries in East Asia and Pacific USD 206 billion a year, equivalent to two percent of the region’s combined GDP.

All governments in the region have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to UNICEF more needs to be done to meet these commitments, including greater investment in social services.

Universal health coverage generates significant economic benefits alongside clear health benefits. However, effective universal health coverage relies on a political decision to provide sufficient public financing, which reduces the financial burden on families.

The paper ‘Accelerating Progress towards Universal Health Coverage for Women and Children’ found that universal health care also provides economic benefits. It helps improve under-five mortality rates, for example, which is key to increasing national life expectancy. For every 10 percent gained in life expectancy, economies can expect a boost of 0.3 to 0.4 percent in annual growth.

Investments in quality primary healthcare, including ensuring there are well-trained healthcare workers and family doctors within easy reach of all women and children, must be a priority for any universal health coverage scheme. This makes sound economic sense, says the report.

Staff Reporter