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drawing of CEO of Save the Children

A conversation with Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Save the Children International

Children are all too often the casualties in armed conflict around the world. Save the Children International estimates more than 50,000 children in Yemen alone are expected to die by the end of the year because of the disease and starvation caused by the ongoing war there.

I recently spoke with Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of the iconic organization for the latest issue of Stanford Medicine magazine -- a special spotlight on kids. At an international summit this summer in Dubai, Thorning-Schmidt, a former Prime Minister of Denmark, told the audience, “To my organization... there is nothing more urgent than protecting children in armed conflict."

She told me that civil strife throughout the world is causing the "worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War:"

Conflict and drought have fueled a crisis, leaving 20 million people in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and northeast Nigeria in urgent need of food and water. Millions more children are growing up in war zones in places like Syria, South Sudan and Yemen. In Yemen, cholera is infecting a child every minute. This is a disease that should have been consigned to the history books. And millions of children have fled their homes as refugees and are now living in limbo without basic supplies or an education. We’re also seeing a new crisis unfold in Bangladesh, where more than a quarter of a million Rohingya children have crossed the border from Myanmar.

Bodily harm and disease take enormous tolls and so too does the psychological damage of war and violence. Save the Children recently published a report on the mental health impact of Syria's civil war on the children and found children are experiencing "deep psychological trauma" with literally no treatment options available." The report also found that a quarter of children interviewed said they had nowhere to turn. Support services in Syria have collapsed, with hospitals bombed and many doctors and professionals having fled the country.

Given the prevailing darkness, I asked whether there was any reason to be hopeful. "The good news is that great progress has been made for children over past decades," she told me. "Children today are healthier, wealthier and better-educated than ever before. We have made great progress, but there is still a long way to go."

Save the Children was founded by an Engishwoman, Eglantyne Jebb, after World War I to feed starving children. Last year alone, the organization touched the lives of more than 157 million children from 120 countries around the globe, including 683,000 children in the United States.

You can read the full interview here.

Previously: Stanford Medicine magazine puts spotlight on pediatric care and Choices for Syrian children
Illustration by Lara Tomlin

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