UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell concluded a three-day visit to Viet Nam, commending the country for its many gains for children. Russell also called for urgent action to address challenges like malnutrition and inequalities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and climate shocks.
“In the past few decades, Viet Nam has made tremendous progress in ensuring that children across the country are healthy, safe, educated and empowered to reach their full potential,” said Russell. “UNICEF will continue to work with the Government and our partners to reach all children, especially the most vulnerable, with the services and support they need.”
Many children in Viet Nam – including those from ethnic minority groups, children whose parents migrate for work, and children with disabilities – still face deprivations from poverty and lack of access to protection and basic services. This situation has been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite recent gains in reducing child mortality, an estimated 230,000 children in Viet Nam suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Around 90 per cent of these children are not being treated, leaving them at heightened risk of death or sustaining going life-long cognitive and physical damage.
In Gia Lai, one of the poorest provinces in Viet Nam with a diverse ethnic population, Russell visited a health centre and a hospital, where children are screened and treated for severe acute malnutrition.
“The situation is heartbreaking,” said Russell. “In Gia Lai, I met a ten-month-old child who looked like a newborn because of malnutrition. Children are wasting away because they don’t have the right nutrition or access to treatment. We can and we must do better.”
UNICEF is advocating for coverage of treatment of severe acute malnutrition and chronic malnutrition under the national health insurance programme and for increasing social protection support to prevent malnutrition from occurring in the first place.
In Gia Lai, Russell also visited a preschool and met children, parents and other community members. UNICEF is a strong advocate for early childhood education, a critical building block for a child’s cognitive development. But too many children living in poverty are without access to learning or have had their education disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other risks to the lives of children include the impacts of climate change – with Viet Nam among the world’s countries most prone to climate-related disasters, including flooding and landslides.
Russell welcomed the Government’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis and the risks it presents to children, especially the most vulnerable.
“The impacts of climate change already pose an unprecedented threat to the health, nutrition, survival and future potential of children around the world,” said Russell. “Investments in adaptability and resilience are key to addressing future shocks and inequalities exacerbated by climate change.”
In Viet Nam, UNICEF has been supporting the Government to train teachers and revise the curriculum. These efforts will help children to adapt to climate change and empower them to create solutions.
In Ha Noi, Russell held talks with senior Government and National Assembly leaders as well as other officials, to emphasize follow-up to the recent Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and to raise key issues affecting children.
More specifically, UNICEF in Viet Nam is advocating for more regular cash benefits, which would help ensure children in poor and disadvantaged families are better fed, protected, and educated. That includes investing in professionally trained social workers who can prevent, protect, intervene and address violence.
The visit of Russell comes at a time when Viet Nam is marking its 45th year as a United Nations member state.