UNICEF is warning that over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic which has so far killed over 147,000 people globally.
The UN agency said on Friday that the global campaign to end polio could be set back years, adding the pandemic will have catastrophic effects on children – their education, safety and poverty.
UNICEF’s Director of the Office of Global Insight and Policy, Laurence Chandy said these effects are largely attributable not to the virus but to the mitigation measures governments have taken, which in some settings, may inadvertently do more harm than good.
He cited immunization campaigns globally which are currently on hold. In 23 countries, measles vaccination programmes on hold.
“We have all read or seen footage of overwhelmed health services in countries from China, to Italy, to the US. We’ve seen less footage of schools around the world that today are all empty. Or of child protection services that have been asked to close their doors,” Laurence Chandy said in a statement.
“It is important to look at the effects of the pandemic in all its dimensions. I would particularly emphasize the economic dimension because of the severity of the global recession we now find ourselves in”.
He quoted an IMF report earlier this week which indicated that 170 countries are expected to see average income levels fall this year.
For poor households around the world, a reduction in income means reductions in essential expenditures on health and food, whose effects are especially grave for children in households who struggle to subsist day to day.
Chandy says it is hard to fathom the effects of 1.5 billion children around the world having their education disrupted or put on pause altogether.
“The effect on children’s safety is alarming too, with children from families with a history of domestic violence now restricted to their homes. We will sadly learn more about this over time”.
UNICEF also adds that poor households, who are forced to cut back their spending on health and food are especially at risk of worse health outcomes for their children.
“To do so, we need to have more information when determining what measures to put in place in a given setting, broadening the focus beyond the narrow count of new cases and new deaths.
He said response to COVID-19 requires balancing multiple risks to save the most lives, adding it also calls for solidarity rather than competing for resources.
“We need to start working together to minimize the pandemic’s effects. Children can serve as a rallying point because we all care for children and because they can be incredibly powerful actors and forces for change in their own right. And we need action”.
The UNICEF Director recommends steps are to shield poor families by expanding social assistance, securing food markets that are at risk of disruption, and adapting physical distancing and lockdown measures that risk causing more loss of life by forcing poor people to abandon their livelihoods.
Governments are being urged to prioritize the continuity of child services and make sure access to those services is equal. This includes classifying child protection as an essential service.