So, what comes next?
It looks like together we are managing to flatten the curve, and this has produced the result we hoped for: our hospitals have not been overrun and our ICUs are not yet at capacity. The tragedy in our long-term care facilities is a stark and sad warning of the havoc this virus can wreak on individuals and families, but by and large our hand hygiene and social distancing are working.
But we can do those simple, life-saving acts because we have running water, we have places to live and enough space to stay a safe distance apart. But what will happen as the virus takes hold in the south? When I think of places I have been fortunate enough to know – Bacongo in Brazzaville, Desamparados in San José where many of the Pueblito children came from, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh now home to hundreds of thousands Rohingya Refugees – in those communities where people live cheek by jowl, crammed into tiny homes on muddy, winding lanes: how will people there be able to practice social distancing?
Not only do they live close together, but when you have to work today in order to earn enough for your meal tonight then you have no choice at all but to live your life among others.
And hand hygiene, which we know is the life-saving front line of defence in this fight against the virus, how do you do that if you don’t have easy access to running water? If you live in a rural village you may have water from a water point somewhere not too far away, but once you have collected the water from the village pump, then carried it home, how best should you use that water? Cooking? Drinking? Clothes washing? Hand hygiene? And how do you wash your hands if you don’t have running water?
We are training front line workers on these sorts of questions and with information about how the virus is transmitted – because in countries without enough tests, ventilators, or ICU beds, prevention is the best chance we have to slow the pandemic down.
And slow it down we must. While we can be thankful that children seem to be spared the worst medical effects of the virus, they risk becoming the greatest long-term victims. Already we see regular immunization programs being halted – and immunization is the main reason we have cut the global child death rates in half over the past thirty years. As economies slow down, extreme poverty will increase dramatically, and at least half of those falling into poverty will be children.
Additionally right now more than one billion children are not in school. We are doing our best to disseminate education packages on line, on radio and on TV, but still, this isn’t the same as being in school.
So even as UNICEF colleagues around the world are fighting the medical fight (and since we procure almost half the vaccines in the world we will have a role to play once a vaccine is found), we must also mitigate all the secondary effects of this pandemic, too. I’ve said it many times before, but I feel it again today – it is a great privilege to work for UINCEF and to be part of an organization working to bring some positive change to every child.