UNICEF chief concerned about children’s health, education, protection in COVID-19 pandemic

Photo shows two of the children who received treatment from the medical program in the third batch. (Photo by Lin Rui/People’s Daily)
Photo shows two of the children who received treatment from the medical program in the third batch. (Photo by Lin Rui/People’s Daily)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore on Wednesday expressed her concern about children’s health, education and protection as COVID-19 has upended the lives of children around the world.

“Children are the hidden victims of this pandemic,” Fore said at the virtual launch event of a 2-billion-U.S. dollar global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. UNICEF is “worried about its short- and long-term impacts on their health, their well-being, their development and their prospects,” she noted. Talking about their lack of access to water and hygiene services, Fore said that 40 percent of the world’s population, or 3 billion people, do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home.”We’re worried about their access to basic health services, including immunization and the treatment of childhood diseases. We cannot save one child from COVID-19, and then lose many to pneumonia, measles and cholera,” she said.

As for their mental health, she said that children and young people are missing out on some of the best moments of their young lives – “chatting with friends, participating in class, and enjoying sports.” “This increases anxiety and can cause changes in behavior. We have put out guidance for parents, teachers, and children and young people to help them cope during these challenging times. Depression and mental health are real, and are affecting one in three of us,” she added.On children’s education, she said that “more than half of the world’s students have been affected by nation-wide school closures in at least 120 countries.” “Hundreds of millions are not in school. Parents and caregivers have lost their jobs,” said Fore.”We hope that most of these students will resume their learning as soon as the situation improves,” said the UNICEF chief.

Fore said UNICEF is working with education ministries around the world to identify “alternative learning programs and opportunities,” whether learning classes online or through radio and TV programs. On children’s protection, she said that “we know from previous health emergencies that children are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse when schools are closed, and jobs are lost, and movement is restricted.” “For example, school closures during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 resulted in spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies,” said Fore.

Talking about the children living through conflicts, Fore said that “for them, the consequences of the pandemic will be unlike any that we have seen.”Referring to the aid for the children, Fore said that “UNICEF alone is appealing for 405 million U.S. dollars for our response in emergency countries. We are also seeking an additional 246.6 million dollars for our response in non-emergency countries.” “So, our total appeal is for 651.6 million dollars,” she said. “With support from the international community, we can, together, shore up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems,” she said.

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