The role of the private sector in child health

How has Vietnam progressed in terms of child protection and health care activities over the past year or so?

The role of the private sector in child health
Lesley Miller, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Vietnam

The past year has brought major advances in this area. The legal framework on child protection has been strengthened and the development of social work, inter-agency cooperation on violence against children and juvenile justice are now further supported with the development of various legal documents.

An intersectoral protocol was also created to provide the framework for the delivery of integrated care and support to victims of violence. These are important steps that UNICEF has supported and will continue to support.

Additionally, as mental health has become a growing and evolving priority area, we have been working with partners to enhance UNICEF’s support to protect children and adolescents from mental health problems. Mental wellbeing promotion, prevention and planning in schools was improved last year through training courses; a groundbreaking study conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Training focusing on school-related risk factors for mental health; and consultations, workshops and conferences were conducted with adolescents and young people to increase their participation in promoting good mental health.

There are key challenges that require coordinated and coherent efforts by all stakeholders: government, communities, families, the international community, everyone. Like all countries, Vietnam is still grappling with the far-reaching socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, which are particularly devastating for the most vulnerable: children with disabilities, ethnic minorities and those affected by migration, climate change and a deteriorating environment.

The pandemic has also exacerbated the need for social assistance to support children and families living in poverty, with an estimated 19.5% of them in Vietnam at risk of multidimensional poverty. More and better investment in social care is needed, especially for families.

Progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals has slowed on many fronts, most notably routine immunization coverage for infants under the age of one, which has dropped from more than 80% to 67% since as of November 2022. Similarly, progress in reducing violence against children has stalled, with over 72 per cent under the age of 14 experiencing violent discipline at home.

Vietnam is not alone in grappling with these issues, but what distinguishes Vietnam is its impressive commitment, capabilities and resources to address these challenges as a matter of urgent priority.

How have businesses in Vietnam contributed to this effort?

Vietnam has a vibrant private sector that has the potential to contribute to the realization of children’s rights. UNICEF has been a key partner with businesses working to raise awareness of these corporate rights and principles and to build their capacity to develop and implement family-friendly policies and improve the work environment for working parents.

Children have an interest in business as consumers, employees of employees, young workers, prospective employees, business leaders, and as citizens in the communities and environments in which the business operates. Companies large and small inevitably interact and impact the lives of children. Whether it’s sponsoring scholarships to promote girls’ education or funding a youth relief grant for youth living in poverty, or implementing codes of conduct that ban child labor in the supply chain, businesses play a key role in promoting these rights.

Companies can enhance the rights of children and protect them from harm through the way they treat their employees, manage their facilities, develop and market their products, provide their services and exert their influence on economic and social development.

UNICEF is working with companies in Vietnam that promote positive parenting practices among their employees and support our education initiative. Companies can drive meaningful change for children. They play a role in eliminating child labour, providing decent work for young workers, parents and carers, or ensuring their products and services are safe and environmentally friendly.

What is the state of health care and education quality for children in Vietnam and what should the government focus on to increase accessibility for all?

While health care for women and children has improved in Vietnam in recent decades, progress has been slower for some vulnerable groups such as some ethnic minorities. For example, the under-five mortality rate for some populations is still 3.5 times higher than for others. Similarly, it is estimated that more than 90% of the 200,000 children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) each year lack access to treatment.

Unfortunately, SAM is life-threatening and a substantial proportion of affected children come from poor families and ethnic minorities. The most efficient and effective route to increasing access to SAM treatment is by ensuring it is covered by health insurance. While this may take time, interim solutions can be introduced, including allocating resources for the procurement of therapeutic products to provide life-saving care to children across the country.

Routine immunization is another cause for concern, with approximately 245,000 infants under one year of age missing one or more doses of critical DPT vaccinations in 2021. Addressing these issues should be a priority for 2023.

Data shows that children in Vietnam learn more the longer they stay in school, which speaks to the quality of education service delivery. As teachers are the cornerstone of the learning process and are a strong determinant of quality, UNICEF is advocating for greater investment in teacher capacity building across multiple domains, but particularly in the areas of social-emotional learning and awareness of mental health.

The area of ​​skills-based learning, including digital and technology-based learning, is also a priority, emerging as a key national strategy to bridge the learning gap due to the pandemic.

The more effective use of technology in education is still being explored, so UNICEF is working with its partners to test and institutionalize technology-based innovation at all school levels.

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The role of the private sector in child health

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