Muslim-majority countries have higher maternal, stillbirth, newborn and child mortality rates compared to the global average and compared to non-Muslim-majority countries…

This highlights the impact of conflict and political instability on health outcomes for women and children, according to new research published in The Lancet on 30 January 2018.

Key drivers not religion

There is no indication that religion affects health outcomes, and the findings of the study point to issues such as conflict, migration, political instability and government effectiveness, as key drivers of differences in maternal and child mortality.

Literacy and empowerment of women

Evidence from around the world also shows that higher literacy, greater social support, and empowerment of women positively impact on maternal and child health. While several Muslim-majority countries have made progress on indicators of empowerment and access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, the authors say greater efforts are now needed.

Health disparities

“Poor governance, lack of accountable and democratic governments as well as insecurity, conflict and population displacement emerge as key determinants driving health disparities. Unequal societies are also fertile grounds for the growth of rebellion and militancy, especially in young people,” says lead author Professor Zulfiqar A Bhutta from the Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto, Canada) and the Aga Khan University (Karachi, Pakistan).

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“Efforts to improve the health of almost two billion Muslims worldwide, and reduce health inequalities, will prove vital to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including peace building over the next 15 years,” adds Professor Bhutta.

Prioritise potential of women and adolescents

Writing in a linked Comment, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations, says: “Greater investments in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health are (also) some of our greatest tools in the face of rising levels of conflict and humanitarian crisis, which disproportionately affect Muslim-majority countries. We must prioritise the potential of women and adolescents as agents of peace through greater investments across health, education, and economic sectors.”

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