Renewing global trust in vaccines, addressing challenges of youth mental health and well being, bridging the digital divide, tackling climate change, and fighting discrimination are the five opportunities for the Children revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the five lessons on how to re-imagine a better future for the children, UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in her annual open letter.
She said, “History is calling upon us once again”. Fore wrote in the open letter about a practical and concrete plan to protect the children. “This promise from our generation to the next to invest in health and education, build more resilient systems and services that can reach all children, and ensure that budget cuts and economic downturns do not harm them,” she said.
The UNICEF chief released the letter as the organisation launched worldwide commemorations of its 75″ anniversary. She said that the pandemic was the first truly global crisis that the present generation saw in their lifetime. The pandemic affected the whole world, especially children. “Millions are missing out on basic health services, education and protection simply because they were born into poverty or because of their ethnicity, ethnicity, religion or race,” she said. COVID-19 has widened this inequality gap and the social, economic and health impacts of the pandemic will reverberate for years to come, threatening child rights, she added.
On vaccines, UNICEF chief Fore warns that vaccine hesitancy will have a major effect on the ability to overcome COVID-19 pandemic. She pointed out that vaccine misinformation was a big and growing business. “We are losing serious ground in the fight for trust. And without trust, any COVID-19 vaccine will be useless. But with the global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, we now have the opportunity to truly reach every child with life-saving immunizations. The light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all,” she writes in the letter.
She said that the goal was to ensure that all the countries and all the families get the vaccine. She maintained that Governments should work together to ensure that the vaccines are affordable and accessible to all.
On mental health, the UNICEF chief said that COVID-19 pandemic turned the lives of children upside down. The pandemic either disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries. “Countries need to give this issue the investment it deserves, dramatically expand mental health services and support for young people in communities and schools, and build on parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home,” she said in the open letter.
With respect to bridging the digital divide, Fore said that Covid 19 lockdowns exposed the inherent inequity of the digital divide. Maintaining that the pandemic heightened the urgency to bridge the gap, she said the world faced ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to connect every child and school to the internet. It is also an opportunity provide new, digitally driven tools to help them develop the skills to realize their potential.
On discrimination, the Chief said that the pandemic affected the world but not equally. She pointed out that ethnicity, wealth and colour determined the impact. On what the world could do against this, Fore writes “we must ensure that every child has the opportunity to contribute to society and that no child is left behind, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity or religion.”
Finally, on Climate change, Fore writes in the open letter that failure to address climate change will only exacerbate inequality. “We must link our COVID-19 recovery and response with bold and urgent actions that address climate change and protect our environment. We need government stimulus programmes that prioritize low-carbon approaches and a coordinated global approach alongside local action.