How Covid-19 has impacted our children

Tuesday June 2 2020

 

By Brian Mukalazi

There is no doubt that Covid-19 is having devastating health and economic implications as numerously reported by the media, but there is also a myriad of considerable direct and indirect health, social, and educational consequences for the marginalised groups of Ugandan children.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in April that 170 countries, including Uganda, are expected to see average income levels fall this year. This, according to UNICEF, will result into reductions in essential expenditures on health and food for poor households and the effects are dire, especially for children in those households, who struggle to subsist day to day.

The most vulnerable children, including those living on the streets and in urban slums, with disabilities, living in conflict-affected areas, living without parental care, and those battling severe health conditions - are of particular concern. These children are being exposed to increased threats of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, child labour, child marriages and child trafficking.

While the Ugandan government is currently distributing relief food to distressed members of the population, with particular focus on Kampala and Wakiso districts, the exercise has not been very successful and many vulnerable people, especially those living in upcountry areas are yet to benefit.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, areas like Karamoja, Teso, and Acholi sub-regions were already reported to have high levels of food insecurity. For instance, in the Karamoja sub-region, estimates suggested that about 100 children aged less than five years died each week from preventable diseases related to food insufficiency.

While addressing the UN Security Council recently, the World Food Programme (WFP) executive director, David Beasley, noted: “While dealing with a Covid-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic. There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of Covid-19 than from the virus itself”. The situation has also been worsened by natural disasters such as low crop yields and desert locust swarms.

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Movement restrictions and loss of income have further exacerbated the accessibility to health services. Children with HIV/Aids, disabilities and other illnesses, that require routine medical checks, counselling and essential medication, are having difficulty accessing them. In some cases, these children (at times with their parents) have to walk long distances in order to access health facilities.
For those children already living in violent and dysfunctional family situations, there have been notable increases in physical, psychological and sexual abuse at home. This could be attributed to high levels of stress, anxiety and, drug abuse - caused by redundancy.

The countrywide school closures implemented by government starting March 20 caused learning disruptions to more than 10 million learners, both in primary and secondary schools. Much as the Education Ministry rolled out learning materials to facilitate home-schooling during the lockdown, these materials are not readily available for many marginalised children since they have limited access to Internet, radio or televisions and lack appropriate supervision.

The government has a central role to play and it needs to work collaboratively with all sectors, including civil society organisations, to maintain essential health and social welfare services, ensure social protection for the most vulnerable children, and continuous engagements of parents, caregivers and the children themselves. Child protection services and players should be designated as essential and resourced accordingly.

Brian Mukalazi is the country director of
Every Child Ministries Uganda. bmukalazi@ecmafrica.org

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