Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the harm done to children across the world is increasingly evident: a record rise in child poverty, setbacks to hard-won progress on routine vaccinations, and disruption to education, according to UNICEF’s “Prospects for children in 2022: a global outlook“.
Though 2021 started with a sense of hope with the unveiling of a suite of vaccines, pointing to a potential exit from the pandemic, the UNICEF said “we instead face the reality of an unequal vaccine roll-out and the emergence of the Omicron variant.”
WHAT NEXT FOR THE WORLD’S CHILDREN
The UNICEF says that the present question is not “how soon the virus will be eradicated, but how soon we will be able to mitigate its effects sufficiently that it will no longer disrupt lives.”
In 2022, the same lack of cooperation puts at risk the G20 target to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the population in every country by mid-year ultimately increasing the odds of further escape variants and delaying the virus’ eventual containment. “Again the longer the delay the more the costs for children accumulate,” the UNICEF said. Noting that inequities are set to take new forms in 2024, the world organisation said the supply constraint for COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries will lift but access to mRNA doses will remain restricted, and less life saving saving treatments like Paxlovid will be even more exclusive.
It said that this put at risk expanded social protection measures that serve as a lifeline to many families, as well as other public services for children. The UNICEF also noted that when children living in rich countries can expect to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis earlier than those in poor countries, children living in humanitarian situations face a more permanent crisis. Moreover, as climate change grows in severity each year, it will trigger new disasters, fuel instability and exacerbate communities existing vulnerabilities in health, nutrition, sanitation and their susceptibility to displacement and violence.
OTHER SOURCES OF INSTABILITY
The proliferation of armed drones and their unregulated use is poised to dramatically alter the nature of warfare, while the increased frequency and intensity of cyber attacks pose a threat to various institutions on which children’s livelihoods depend, including schools, other public infrastructure, and banks.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE CHILDREN’S FORTUNES?
- The global community needs to recast its COVID-19 strategy to focus not only on mitigating the virus but mitigating its effect on society, particularly children.
- Keep schools open and provide schools and families with the resources they need to keep children safely in school and learning.
- Place them and their families and the goods and services on which they depend at the centre of recovery packages and protecting them from the fiscal adjustments that are expected to follow
- Some of the technology and infrastructure developed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic can be put to new uses to drive the next revolution in child survival.
- Investing in restoring losses from the pandemic in learning, non-COVID-19 health programmes, nutrition and children’s mental health.
- Doubling down on health system strengthening and expanding access to primary health care.