Global Child Health Issues

Pediatric Basics

A Syrian refugee child in a make-shift camp.
A young Syrian girl in a make-shift camp on the border with Turkey. Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images News

In addition to all of the great work that the American Academy of Pediatrics does for kids in the United States, the AAP also promotes and leads "efforts to help children throughout the world attain optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being."

Global Child Health Issues

That global health is important to understand when you think about how easy it is for many diseases to expand beyond geographic boundaries.

That became very evident when Ebola reached the United States and many people panicked.

But that isn't the only issue, as we see an increase in immigrant and refugee children, other emerging infections, and humanitarian emergencies, etc.

Other global health issues facing children include:

  • high infant mortality rates
  • high child mortality rates
  • malnutrition and food insecurity
  • unsafe drinking water
  • overcrowded living conditions
  • secondhand smoke exposure
  • malaria and other infectious diseases
  • unintentional injuries
  • child abuse and neglect
  • sex trafficking

And tragically, vaccine-preventable diseases are still a big killer in many places around the world.

Many of these global health issues are reflected in the fact that life expectancy gaps, although improving, are still very large between poor and rich countries - over 15 years for men and 19 years for women.

Global Child Health Issues in the News

Around the world, disasters, both man-made and natural, including wars, have led to increases in suffering of children and their families.

Reports of children in crisis include, but are not limited to:

  • Nepal - earthquake
  • Syria - war
  • West Africa - Ebola outbreak
  • Sahel - drought and famine
  • South Pacific - Tropical Cyclone Pam
  • Yemen - war
  • Iraq - war
  • Afghanistan
  • South Sudan - civil war
  • Ukraine - war
  • Gaza
  • Nigeria - Boko Haram attacks
  • Columbia
  • Congo - war
  • Somalia

Millions of children are suffering from malnutrition, lack of health care, and don't have access to clean water in these countries. They can also be abused and forced to fight in local wars.

Immigration and Refugee Children

Stories of immigrant and refugee children have been in the news a lot recently.

In addition to children of immigrants who have grown up in the United States, immigrant children who arrived by themselves without parents, and immigrant children and families being held in detention centers in the United States, worldwide, there are over 30 million children and teens who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

Even as we hear stories and see pictures of parents with their children pushing past guards at border checkpoints in Macedonia, there are even more stories of refugee families being lost at sea.

Other children are struggling to live in refugee camps.​​

Solutions to Global Child Health Issues

In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a United Nations human rights treaty, was adopted and "inspired changes in laws and practice that have improved the lives of millions of children."

It has been ratified by every member of the UN except the United States.

From government programs to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work to provide clean water (Oxfam), healthcare (Doctors Without Borders), and vaccines (PATH and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), and academic institutions, like the Duke Global Health Institute, there are many organizations working to help children around the world.

Many of the solutions to global health problems and global health projects are aimed at providing access to things that many parents in developed countries take for granted, including:

Still, even with all of this work that is being done, many people still wonder if the world is a better place for children now than it has been in the past.


American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Providing Care For Immigrant, Homeless, and Migrant Children. Pediatrics Vol. 115 No. 4 April 1, 2005. pp. 1095-1100.

Cabral, Sergio Augusto MD, Overview of the Global Health Issues Facing Children, PEDIATRICS Volume 129, Number 1, January 2012.

United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees. Global Trends Report: World at War. June 18, 2015.

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