One in nine people affected by Covid-19 is a child or adolescent, according to Unicef, “or 11% of the 25.7 million infections identified” in nearly 90 countries as of November 3, 2020. A figure that does not reflect the extent of the consequences of the pandemic on the youngest. “Children can get sick and transmit the virus, but this is only the tip of the iceberg”, said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of Unicef, on the eve of World Children’s Day on November 20. “The longer the crisis lasts, the more severe the consequences for the education, health, nutrition and well-being of children. The future of an entire generation is at risk. ” Especially on the African continent.
In East and Southern Africa, Unicef reported in August 2020 that it had already noted an increase in rates of violence against children and a reduction in rates of nutrition. “Six to seven million additional children under 5 will suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, an increase of 14% which will translate into more than 10 000 additional child deaths per month, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia “, provides for the organization in its latest report.
“We must not be distracted by our efforts to contain (disease) and find ourselves with a lost generation “, had already warned Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “It is estimated that the number of children in the world affected by multidimensional poverty – who do not have access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – jumped 15% in mid-2020, which represents 150 million more children “, notes Unicef.
To better protect them, the UN agency is once again recommending a series of measures. Among, “ensure that all children are educated, including by reducing the digital divide “. In November 2020, a third of school children had their schools closed. Unicef insists that “schools are not the main vector of transmission” But than “the net benefits of opening schools outweigh the costs of closing them“With the pandemic, education has become a matter of concern for parents.
Almost 40% of those questioned expressed concern about the damage that Covid-19 has on this aspect of their children’s lives as part ofinvestigation led by Unicef in seven countries in the North Africa and Middle East region (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Qatar) between April and July 2020.
In children, the prolonged interruption of education concentrates all the ills linked to this pandemic. Namely, says the WHO, “poor diet, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, pregnancies (…) and general difficulties with mental development (…) due to reduced interaction related to school closures”.
Distance education does not completely solve the problem because “about 30% of schoolchildren in the world” are not equipped for or cannot benefit from it. “The highest rate of children who cannot be reached are in sub-Saharan Africa”, precise Unicef. A region where girls are “disadvantaged in acquiring ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) skills, whether at school or at home”, notes a study published in August 2020. In Ghana, for example, 16% of adolescents own them compared to 7% of adolescent girls.
Similarly in North Africa and the Middle East, half of parents and caregivers said that distance education was ineffective, due to lack of resources, limited access to ‘internet, lack of support from adults in the family and difficulties in contacting teachers.
Still to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, Unicef invites “guarantee every child access to nutrition and health services as well as affordable vaccines”. Routine vaccinations are on the decline due to Covid-19. “The impact of the pandemic on essential health services has been very widespread in Africa. Vaccination campaigns against measles, tuberculosis, yellow fever, polio and other diseases have been postponed in at least 15 African countries this year “, recalled the WHO regional office at the beginning of November.
“Outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases and maternal health services” are also down in several countries around the world, according to Unicef. In 2019, “three stillbirths (birth of an infant with no sign of life at 28 weeks of pregnancy or more, Editor’s note) out of four took place in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia “, indicated WHO.
The UN agency which defends the rights of children also advocates for their mental protection and an end to gender-related abuse and violence. Like many situations, the risks are increased tenfold for girls, even more so when they live in precariousness.
According to investigation of Unicef carried out in the North Africa and Middle East zone, “more than half of those questioned” have seen mental and emotional difficulties in their children. Likewise, nearly 40% of those contacted mentioned “increased anxiety and stress” at their home, “with a higher prevalence reported by parents of adolescents 13 years of age or older”.
The Covid-19 “accentuate a long-lasting crisis affecting mental health care in Africa “, observed Dr. Moeti at the beginning of October. She recommended to leaders “ofurgently invest in mental health care services “.