Peter Walsh, country director for Save the Children in Tanzania made the call yesterday, urging all responders to prioritise children in the response, warning that failure to do so, will bring long-term impacts to the group even after the pandemic is gone.
In an interview with The Guardian, Walsh noted that, children are at great risk from the effects of coronavirus. “In our 100 years of service to children we have seen that in any crisis, including in previous pandemics, the young and vulnerable suffer disproportionately.”
“Child protection is more vital as many people are afraid and stressed right now. These feelings are known to increase violence, abuse, neglect and substance abuse at home where children should be safest,” he said.
He said that health systems which were already struggling to manage childhood illnesses will be further weakened by the outbreak. Children with pre-existing health conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis and acute malnutrition will be the most affected,” he explained.
The director added that, health facilities will be overcrowded with COVID-19 patients which will further collapse the health systems. Hence, this might contribute to poor health seeking behaviour among caregivers with under-five.
“Response need to be more strengthened including restructuring of child health clinics during this pandemic by reducing overcrowding of caregivers with under-five who are vulnerable to the virus,” Walsh insisted.
“Without being able to go to school, children in abusive homes have lost access to the support of their friends and community. We know there is a risk that we will see the increase of abusive behaviour and suicide amongst these vulnerable children if protection services recede during the pandemic,” he explained.
Covid-19 is having both short-term and far-reaching implications for our families, friends and colleagues. It also has an impact on our work, and will affect the achievement of our shared vision of a world without violence against children.
“We saw in the Ebola pandemic how a health response can cause harm to children and families. We saw the parents of children removed from their home for medical treatment, without any provision of care for their children, and we saw children go into treatment with their parents placing them at risk of catching the disease or without their parents – alone and scared,” director added.
“We have the opportunity to learn from these experiences in previous pandemics to make the response for children in Tanzania less scary and less damaging for children. This is not a time when we need children and their families to be afraid of health service providers,” he stressed.
Walsh further advised the government to ensure that mental health, psychosocial support and protection services are a core component of the response to COVID-19 by increasing psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, integrating their work into the prevention and clinical management of Covid-19.
“Also, Community Health Workers (CHWs) need to be capacitated and empowered to provide treatment for uncomplicated wasting at the community level, including training on low no-touch assessment, simplified treatment protocols, remote supervision and key messages on COVID-19,”.
He also said that, all front line workers (e.g., health, community workers, security personnel and others,) should be trained on psychological first aid, child protection, gender based violence and how to get those in their care more assistance with these issues when they see them.
In the rush to protect people of all ages in Tanzania, it may seem like common sense to reroute available resources towards combating the virus but doing so could lead to the death and injury of many from other causes, including women and children.
The director applauded the government of Tanzania, together with multiple stakeholders who have launched a comprehensive response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Tanzania aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19 while tracing and treating those infected.
Tanzania should develop national support for their poorest and most vulnerable people, including protections for jobs and guaranteed family income.
“We recommend that the government combine measures for controlling spread of infection with increased & expanded social safety net payments as a means to mitigate against lost income, and ensure families are able to put meals on the table and meet basic needs,” he emphasised.
So far, Tanzania has recorded 480 cases of Corona virus, 167 recoveries and 16 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children.
While, globally, data from World Health Organisation up to May 05, shows that there are 3,517,345 reported cases, with 243,401 deaths caused by the disease.
According to the joint statement signed by leaders from 22 world leading organisations, working to end violence against children, they committed that;
Leaders of the organisations, to come together in solidarity to share our deep concern, call for action and pledge our support to protect children from violence and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on children in every country and community.
A third of the global population is on COVID-19 lock-down, and school closures have impacted more than 1.5 billion children. Movement restrictions, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding and high levels of stress and anxiety are increasing the likelihood that children experience and observe physical, psychological and sexual abuse at home – particularly those children already living in violent or dysfunctional family situations.
We must act now. Together, we call on governments, the international community and leaders in every sector to urgently respond with a united effort to protect children from the heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse as part of the broader response to COVID-19.
Governments have a central role to play. They must ensure that COVID-19 prevention and response plans integrate age appropriate and gender sensitive measures to protect all children from violence, neglect and abuse. Child protection services and workers must be designated as essential and resourced accordingly.
As global organisations working to end violence against children, we will continue to advocate for and invest in effective child protection solutions. We will collectively develop and share technical resources and guidance for policymakers, practitioners, parents, caregivers and children. And we will support the courageous health, child protection and humanitarian professionals working around the clock to keep children safe during these unprecedented times.