Lusaka – A concerted global effort, backed with political will, is key to confronting the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, a new report says.
UNICEF and NGO Save the children, in a joint report, describe the pandemic as a “universal crisis, capable of leaving a lifelong impact on children of all ages chiefly, in the poorest countries, neighbourhoods and those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations”.
Citing data from more than 70 randomly selected countries, the organisations estimated that 45 percent of children were already severely deprived of at least critical need before the global health crisis even manifested; and the situation has only worsened since.
“For the poorest families, including those who do not have access to social protection, the situation is dire. The global socioeconomic crisis caused by the pandemic could push 142 million more children into monetary poor households in developing countries,” the report notes.
Estimates project that the number of children living in poor households could pass 725 million in the absence of mitigating policies. Nearly two-thirds of these children live in Africa and South Asia.
The report recommends an urgent assessment of the material shortcomings faced by children, as poverty affects them more acutely than it does adults. Such an assessment will help determine potential deprivations in a multidimensional manner and provide scope for holistic interventions.
Most evident are the impacts of COVID-19 on health, education and nutrition.
More than 168 million children missed school for the whole of 2020 and part of 2021 due to lockdowns; and around 214 million – or 1 in 7 – have missed more than three-quarters of in-class learning.
Prior to the pandemic, millions of children were already missing out on education and lockdowns have sharpened such inequalities as many cannot afford or do not have access to digital learning. At least one-third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million – were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered institutions.
In addition, public health systems have been hot hard, with routine immunisation, and antenatal and postnatal care particularly affected.
Nearly 14 million children did not receive any vaccines in 2019 and the number is believed to be higher in 2020-21. Almost six million children did not get all the basic vaccines for full protection against life-threatening diseases.
“… senseless loss of life can often be prevented with quality antenatal and delivery care but even before the pandemic hit, few women were receiving the necessary care to prevent stillbirths,” the UN-Save the Children report says.
It also says the lack of adequate food has made more children vulnerable to malnourishment.
Efforts to contain transmission of COVID-19 have disrupted food systems, upended and nutrition services and threatened food security.