It is great reading how African philanthropists have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. In several countries we have seen unprecedented giving in support of efforts by governments to beat Covid-19. Most of this support has gone towards strengthening health care systems and ensuring the spread of the virus is curbed.
As witnessed in Asia, Europe, North America, and now increasingly in Africa, the pandemic’s impact is beyond the health sector. But we risk underestimating how the pandemic and response of our governments will affect children’s lives. In the short- and long-term children could be affected in several crippling ways - but with the vital support of African philanthropists, we can be more prepared to mitigate these risks.
Let us not read into infection rates of children to assume they are untouched by Covid-19. As of March 30, 104 million children were out of school in Africa. With no end in sight, we do not know when they will return to school. For millions of children schools are safe places, a source of meals and provide much needed structure. Beyond disruption to education, there is a risk of children being abused, exploited or subjected to child labour. Girls are especially at risk of transactional sex or child marriage. During the ebola outbreak of 2014-16 the number of adolescent pregnancies in Sierra Leone dramatically increased. We must strive to stop this happening again, only this time it will be across more countries in Africa.
A malnourished child is eleven times more likely to die from common infections such as measles, malaria and pneumonia than a child who is eating well. Covid-19 has already spread to countries grappling with malnutrition and which have been hit by the recent locust outbreak and failing rains. Malnourished children with weak immune systems will be vulnerable to Covid-19 not to mention that the virus attacks the lungs and makes one more susceptible to pneumonia.
My worst fear is Covid-19 reaching areas like northern Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia where severely acute malnourished children are already extremely vulnerable.
I saw a photo of a woman in a local Ugandan newspaper who is forced to sleep at her market stall. With the travel ban in place, she has chosen the market over staying home with her children so she can earn a living and send money back home. She admits that staying away puts her children at more risk, but she has no option as she has to feed them. This is not an isolated case, as I have personally had to send money back home as several relatives have lost their livelihoods and struggle to feed, buy medicine or put kerosene in lamps so their children can study in the evenings. If we do not focus on the impact Covid-19 is having on children, we will undo gains made towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
To the African philanthropist, we challenge you to do more to protect African children from the impact of Covid-19. Your resources, time and in-kind support will help parents stay home and look after their children with enough to eat. You would ensure that children have continued learning from home while also helping us to develop child-friendly messages to stop them catching, spreading and falling ill from Covid-19. We cannot allow refugee children and those who are internally displaced and living in overcrowded camps and with no access to healthcare and water to be ignored. Not enough attention is being paid to addressing the challenges faced by children and we cannot let this happen.
Save the Children has close and lasting relationships with governments across the continent and are already on the ground working with them to stop further infection and offer support where health systems are stretched. Our focus is the well-being of every last child and we are ready to act to ensure that their needs are met during this unprecedented time. With the vested interest, influence and support of African philanthropists we know we can do this. No one is safe until we are all safe.
Save the Children have launched the Covid-19 Emergency Appeal for Africa. Your contribution will help directly support 500,000 children and reach millions more across 15 African countries. To donate click here
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