The lost ‘Covid Generation’

The Covid-19 infection rate in Nepal is much higher in younger age groups but most fatalities are of people in their sixties and above. However, a new UNICEF report warns that an entire generation of young people are at risk because of the pandemic’s impact on health, education and nutrition.

In Nepal, younger people are now taking home the SARS-CoV-2 virus and making their parents and grandparents seriously sick.

The Covid-19 crisis has also disrupted vaccination campaigns for other diseases in Nepal, and threatens to undo decades of progress in child survival.

Critical health services, lack of medicines and restrictions on mobility has lead to dramatic rise in maternal and child mortality as well as outbreaks of infectious diseases such as of measles in Nepal’s Dhading and Gorkha districts.

Children and adolescents are thought to be the least affected by the coronavirus disease. But as the pandemic lurches towards a second year, an entire generation of young people is at the risk of facing life-altering impact on health, education and nutrition.

A UNICEF report launched on World Children’s Day on Friday lists the serious and growing consequences for children as the pandemic drags on.

Covid-19 impact on food and school in Nepali children, Nepali Times

Averting a Lost COVID Generation points out that while symptoms among children remain mild, infection rates are rising and the coronavirus crisis threatens to cause longer-term and irreversible impact on their education, nutrition and well-being.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a persistent myth that children are barely affected by the disease. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Disruptions to key services and soaring poverty rates pose the biggest threat to children. The longer the crisis persists, the deeper its impact on children’s education, health, nutrition and well-being. The future of an entire generation is at risk.”

The UNICEF report has compiled age-aggregated data from 87 countries and found that children and adolescents under 20 years account for 1 in 9 reported Covid-19 infection or at least 11% of the 25.7 million cases. More importantly, they transmit the virus to the larger population more at the risk.

The report has estimated that 2 million additional child deaths and 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur over a 12-month period worldwide with severe interruptions to services and rising malnutrition.

Rise in poverty due to Covid-19 to affect children, Nepali Times

Restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic has meant that the number of children living in multi-dimensional poverty. As a result 6 to 7 million children under the age of 5 are likely to suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, a 14% rise that will translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

There is a 40% decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries. As of October 2020, 265 million children were still missing out on school meals globally. More than 250 million children under 5 could miss the life-protecting benefits of Vitamin A supplementation programs.

While a more reliable, age-disaggregated data on infection, deaths and testing is needed to better understand how the crisis impacts the most vulnerable children, there is strong evidence that the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them.

But schools have been closed for almost a year in Nepal and ad hoc online classes has only exposed the country’s digital divide more than ever. This has experts worried that past achievements in school enrollment will undermined.

Children are collateral damage in lockdown, Sonia Awale

A school in Humla that had opened after eight months last week saw 32 students and teachers testing positive to Covid-19, and this is likely to make local government’s in areas with low infection rates rethink resumption of classes.

A survey by the Room To Read literacy group in August showed that 53% of female students may not go back to schools when they reopen.

As of November 2020, 572 million students are affected by country-wide school closures across the world, and this is 33% of the total enrolled students worldwide.

“This World Children’s Day, we are asking governments, partners and the private sector to listen to children and prioritise their needs,” added Fore. “As we all reimagine the future and look ahead toward a post-pandemic world, children must come first.”

On Friday UNICEF Nepal is also hosting a virtual children’s parliamentary session and is launching a mental health campaign ‘म छु नि’ (Here for You) for children and adolescents.

Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions have had added to mental health problems of young people and can have a lasting impact on their long-term development.

In Nepal, 1 in 12 children aged 10-14 years and 1 in 10 aged 15-17 years experience anxiety, and 2% of 10-17 year olds suffer from depression.