Since November 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the globe affecting millions of people regardless of their origin, background, gender or wealth. On March 11th 2020 the World Health Organisation has declared it a pandemic emergency acknowledging its fast global spread.
Over the past two weeks the virus has also reached Africa, with the number of affected countries jumping from 9 to 41 – including the DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda where Chance for Childhood has been working for over 20 years. By the end of March 2020, there were 2,400 confirmed cases of people with Covid-19 in Africa and 60 reported deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, the numbers are sadly likely to increase.
As the number of COVID-19 cases across the continent are rising consistently, African communities are now about to face not only a health emergency, reminiscent of the West African Ebola outbreak, but also a social and humanitarian crisis. COVID-19 is spreading in Africa amidst existing global inequalities, widespread poverty, refugee crisis and disrupted public health and welfare systems.
“African communities are now about to face not only a health emergency, reminiscent of the West African Ebola outbreak, but also a social and humanitarian crisis.
In Uganda, for instance, more than 21% of the total population live in poverty, and it is estimated that least an additional 60% might become poor in the face of disaster. The entire population has to deal with a dysfunctional health system, serving a population of over 40 million and with only 12 functional intensive care units (ICUs) and 55 functional ICU beds across the country.
Border shutting, restriction of free movement, school closure, ban of public transports and curfews have been imposed by all East African countries in the hope of limiting the contagion. At the same times, disease control measures are inevitably affecting the most vulnerable and marginalized children and families. Lockdowns and quarantines are reducing food supplies and leaving more people at risk. Children’s care and social support, which is provided by schools, is now disrupted making them more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress.
Lockdowns are blind to needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls, increasing their protection risks and leading to negative coping mechanisms, such as alcohol abuse and self-harm. Children and families who are already vulnerable due to socio-economic exclusion or those who live in overcrowded settings will also not be able to meet their basic needs and implement social distancing.
The nurseries we support with our local partner Street Girls Aid have had to shut, leaving street children at risk
How will those we work with will be impacted?
How will the young women we train in food processing and tailoring cope with the missed opportunity of earning a living? Where will the young street connected Ghanaian mothers go under lockdown if our shelter facility is closed? How will children with disabilities continue to be supported in learning and community integration during school closure?
- The closure of schools not only will interrupt and delay children’s learning with the risk of doubling the year, some children will not return to school at all. The more children are left out of school, particularly the ones at risk of dropping out such as children with disabilities, the harder will be for them to catch up and will be missing out an education.
- Essential services that families usually rely on, such as school nutrition or health and sanitation programmes, as well as access to clean water, will now not be available, adding an extra burden on communities.
- Lockdowns will impose girls and women to stay home, forcing them to face abusive household members and a high risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
- Quarantine measures will create fear and panic in marginalised rural communities, families and children. This will increase distress and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which is particularly detrimental to the health of refugees and displaced children.
- Children with disabilities will face greater threat and danger due to discrimination and barriers to access social services, health care and protection. They might also face greater risk of contagion and of not accessing healthcare support.
- Reduced household income and livelihood opportunities, will compromise rehabilitation opportunities of children in conflict with the law, pushing them to commit crimes such as stealing food just to survive. The lack of protection and measures and increased obstacles of accessing adequate law support will result in children facing greater protection risks and ending up in detention facilities that do not meet human rights.
Lockdowns mean vulnerable children and their families won’t have access to the support they need
What can we do to support them?
The COVID-19 emergency is already affecting all our efforts to support marginalised children and young people in Africa. It has already hit the most vulnerable the hardest and we know that the short-term impact will be devastating. Right now, the whole world has been shocked at the instant and drastic impact this pandemic is having.
However, we must be ready to act in the best possible way for the most vulnerable children and young people who will suffer the most. We are working with our partners to put together recovery plans which will address the immediate and long-term impacts of this pandemic.
It is now more vital than ever that we step up our commitment to these children, their families and their communities and work to limit the disastrous impact that the pandemic is having on health, social and economic systems in the countries we work in. We look forward to sharing more with you as we work closely with our partners at this time.
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Senior Programmes Manager – Quality Assurance