Covid 19 pandemic exposed the inequalities among children that existed for long with the worst affected were from the poorest countries and disadvantaged by discrimination, social exclusion, fragility and conflict. Though less vulnerable to Covid 19 Virus, the children faced much shock because of school closures, mental health strains of parents, increased vulnerability to abuse, loss of access to vital health care, says the UNICEF 2020 Annual Report published this month.
In the annual report, UNICEF underscores how ‘2020 was a year like no other’. It said that at least one in seven children and young people lived under stay-at-home policies for most of last year. It mentions that school closure affected about 94 per cent of students and one third of them had no access to remote learning. Moreover, disruptions in food systems, and health and nutrition services left about 44 million children hungry, the report noted.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “The global crisis sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in its scope and the inequality of its impact. In one short year, it wiped out hard-won development gains for children and pushed more families into poverty.”
Moreover, she pointed out that the pandemic widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots.
“As communities struggled to contain the virus, UNICEF was there to provide information, deliver supplies like personal protective equipment or PPE, syringes and testing kits, and keep vital health services – like immunizations and treatment for malnutrition – up and running. As schools were closed, UNICEF was there to provide a range of remote learning options – including online delivery of education. As families struggled economically, UNICEF was there to provide social protection initiatives, like cash transfers. As the vaccines were rapidly developed, UNICEF was there playing a leading role in the COVAX Facility,” the UNICEF Executive Director said.
DISRUPTED ESSENTIAL HEALTH AND NUTRITIONAL SERVICES
The UNICEF Annual report says that the pandemic disrupted essential health and nutrition services in 2020, reversing decades-long improvements. It says that around one third of countries faced declines of 10 per cent or more in-service coverage for routine immunizations, outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases, and maternal health services by the end of October 2020.
The UNICEF report warns that Covid 19 threatens to roll back the hard won progress made to date, straining fragile social service, protection and justice systems, increasing gender-based risks and deepening inequalities. Moreover, the crisis also raised ‘hidden’ issues like mental health, violence at home, and the needs of children without family care.
HOW COVID 19 AFFECTED CHILDREN
- 142 million additional children estimated to fall into monetary poverty by the end of 2020 and lack access to social protection.
- An additional 1.2 million children under 5 years of age could die over a 12-month period in low- and middle income countries because of disruptions to health services and rising malnutrition.
- About 1.6 billion children and young people affected by school closures. At least one in three schoolchildren unable to access remote learning.
- 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur in 12 months as women are less likely or able to access health services
- Approximately 80 million children under age one may miss out on life-saving vaccines in at least 68 countries. As of late 2020, in 59 countries, refugees and asylum seekers were excluded from national social protection measures because of discriminatory laws, policies and practices.
- An estimated 43 per cent of all children (349 million) who are below primary school entry age need child care, but do not have access to it.
- An additional 6.7 million children under age 5 could suffer from wasting in the next 12 months
- Stress, confinement and poverty accelerating serious child protection risk when 1.8 billion children live in the 104 countries where violence prevention and response services have been disrupted due to COVID-19.
- Around 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice.
WHAT UNICEF DID
- Providing leadership in the COVAX Facility, resulting in the financing of COVID-19 vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income countries and preparing countries to deliver the vaccine
- Providing critical water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies (WASH) for 106 million people, including 58 million children in 153 countries
- Managing risk communication, disseminating community engagement information and supporting activities that reached 3 billion people, including approximately 1.53 billion women and girls and 810 million children
- Providing personal protective equipment for nearly 2.6 million health workers and facilitating training on infection prevention and control for 4 million health workers
- Training more than 30,000 social service workers in delivering essential services
- Putting in place community-based mental health and psychosocial interventions that reached 78 million children, adolescents, parents and caregivers in 117 countries
- Shifting the management of child wasting from facilities to the community level, which resulted in nearly 5 million children with severe wasting receiving treatment and care
- Supporting more than 301 million children, including approximately 147 million girls, with remote learning Reaching over 130 million children in 93 countries with its supported cash-transfer programmes
- Responding to 455 new and ongoing humanitarian situations in 152 countries beyond COVID-19