Pandemic is having a severe impact on the lives of children
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Cape Town - While children accounted for only 4% of Covid-19 cases in the province, thousands more have been affected by its secondary impacts like the illness and death of family members, deepened levels of poverty and hunger and limited access to healthcare, schools and early childhood development.
These were among the findings of a series of eight advocacy briefs launched on Tuesday, developed by the Children’s Institute, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Trust and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which focused on the severe impacts the pandemic has had on children.
“In hospitals, paediatric and adolescent beds were re-allocated to adult Covid-care, elective surgeries were cancelled, and many children with disabilities were unable to access care,” said series editor, Lori Lake of the Children’s Institute, UCT.
“Hospital admissions for diarrhoea and pneumonia decreased, yet the in-hospital mortality rate increased, raising concerns about life-threatening delays in seeking care.”
Children’s needs were largely overlooked, for example primary health care visits in children under five dropped by 23% from 2019 to 2020, leading to gaps in testing and treatment for HIV, TB and malnutrition.
In the first year of the pandemic there were over 284 000 cases of Covid-19 in the Western Cape, and 12 300 of these were children.
Furthermore 1 500 children were admitted to hospital and 59 children died of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, 47% of households ran out of money to buy food during hard lockdown, the authors found, and child hunger remained high with 1-in-7 households reporting that a child went hungry in April this year.
“Child hunger is expected to intensify in the coming months due to a decrease in the real value of the Child Support Grant, valued at R460 a month or R15 a day, which has failed to keep pace with food price inflation,” Lake added.
The impact on the mental health of both children and their caregivers were also of concern with few studies on the subject to date.
“Women have been particularly hard hit by unemployment, food insecurity, domestic violence and an increased burden of childcare, and these additional pressures compromise their own mental health and that of their children.
“In addition, most children have been exposed to some form of loss – loss of school, loss of friends, or the loss of loved ones – and they need support to cope with grief,” said co-director of the Institute for Lifecourse Health Research at Stellenbosch University, Professor Mark Tomlinson.
The closures of school and ECD programmes were also highlighted for its devastating impacts.
“The school closures have had a devastating impact on education, with the majority of primary school children losing close to a full year of learning and an estimated 750 000 learners dropping out of school,” said project manager of the Schools Improvement Initiative in the Schools Development Unit at UCT, Dr Patti Silbert.
Including that the government listen to children and take them seriously, other recommendations included, that the immediate obligations to protect and sustain essential services for children and uphold children’s rights to basic education, health care, child protection services, ECD programmes, and social assistance are fulfilled.
All eight briefs can be found at http://www.ci.uct.ac.za/ci/projects/covid-children