For most of us, the novel coronavirus is the biggest disruption to our routine lives in recent memory. But while we try to catch up with the shocks it has dealt to our present, it is already leaving a lasting impact on our future.
While children, for the most part, have been spared the severity of Covid-19 in terms of physical, the pandemic has placed them in serious jeopardy in other ways. Deprived of routine immunisation and in many cases, education opportunities, more than 600 million children in South Asia are at serious risk, a recent report released by Unicef has warned.
As of April 2020, a staggering two-thirds of children in Pakistan have missed out on necessary vaccinations, exposing them to the risk of serious viral illnesses like polio. In the South Asia region as a whole, 40 million children under the age of five could not receive the polio vaccine this year due to measures imposed for curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, the report pointed out.
And as the health infrastructure of countries like Pakistan and India buckled under the ever-increasing influx of Covid-19 patients, a huge number of children have been deprived of other essential healthcare. Since children have been found to asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus, doctors have generally discouraged parents from bringing them to hospitals where Covid-19 patients are being treated.
On the other hand, restrictions imposed by governments to limit the spread of Covid-19 have also disrupted academic activities. In Pakistan and other countries in the region, millions of children are missing out on schooling as many schools are unable to provide education either physically or through virtual means.
The Unicef report warned that this trend could increase the number of out-of-school children by as much as 23 million. Presently, Unicef estimates 22.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 are out-of-school in Pakistan, the second-highest number in the world.
The coronavirus pandemic has also reduced public sector investment in health and education by 0.76 per cent and 2.3 per cent respectively, severely hindering the delivery of health and education services, the report added.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, experts said the novel coronavirus would inevitably birth a future children’s rights crisis unless timely action is taken. According to them, many families are being pushed below the poverty line due to the economic shocks the pandemic has generated. This, in conjunction with health and education disruptions, has created a triple-threat for our children’s future, they said.
The experts urged governments and organisations around the world to come up with concrete steps to safeguard of future of children most at risk due to the virus. They called for the introduction of social service projects that could ensure children’s health and education needs are met.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Unicef and the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan have been collaborating with other partners to reduce the social impact of the virus. In addition to conducting public awareness campaigns on symptoms and safety measures for Covid-19, Unicef workers have been arranging working on safety and health measures like installing hand-washing facilities in public places across the country, providing social-distancing awareness and delivering essential services such as health and food.