TORONTO, 25 March 2020 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries in a bid to protect millions of people and stop the virus from circling back around the globe.
Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has upended the lives of people around the world, especially children. Hundreds of millions are not in school. Parents and caregivers have lost their jobs. Borders have been closed.
“UNICEF’s life-saving work for children has never been more critical. Our global reach and expertise in water, sanitation, hygiene, health, nutrition and education gives us the capacity to coordinate with governments for an effective response to COVID-19,” said David Morley, UNICEF Canada President & CEO. “As countries deal with COVID-19, the most vulnerable, especially newborns and children, will be hit the hardest. Their need for support has never been more urgent.”
UNICEF specifically is appealing for (US) $651.6 million to support its global humanitarian response plan and protect the world’s most vulnerable children by:
- Shoring up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems;
- Increasing access to proper handwashing and sanitation services;
- Providing communities with information they need during the pandemic;
- Maintaining a steady flow of personal protection equipment such as gowns, masks, goggles and gloves — to support infection prevention and control while keeping essential, hard-working health workers safe;
- Working with governments to strengthen protection services, psychosocial support and remote learning opportunities for all the children, and particularly for the most vulnerable children.
“Children are the hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and school closures are affecting their education, mental health and access to basic health services. The risks of exploitation and abuse are higher than ever, for boys and girls alike,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “For children on the move or living through conflicts, the consequences will be unlike any we have ever seen. We must not let them down.”
Washing hands with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19. And yet, 40 per cent of the world’s population – or 3 billion people – do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home.
Even worse, 1 in 6 healthcare facilities lack hygiene services. More than one-third of schools worldwide and half of schools in the least-developed countries have no place for children to wash their hands at all.
More than half of the world’s students have been affected by nation-wide school closures in at least 120 countries. Vulnerable children, the longer they stay away from school the less likely they are to return.
These closures are not only limiting access to learning — but to school nutrition, health programs, clean water and accurate information.
Children are also at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse when schools are closed, jobs are lost, and movement is restricted. School closures during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016 resulted in spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies.
Millions of children on the move or living through conflicts. For them, the consequences of this pandemic will be dire. These children live in overcrowded conditions, often in active war zones, with limited or non-existent access to health care. A family of six, eight, ten or 12 can be living in one room. Self-isolation and handwashing with soap will not be easy in such environments.
The mental health of all children is being directly impacted by COVID-19. Children and young people are missing out on some of the best moments of their young lives — chatting with friends, participating in class, and enjoying sports. They are missing out on their right to a childhood. This increases anxiety, depression and can cause changes in behavior.
UNICEF Canada urges Canadians to make the best interests of every child in Canada and around the world a priority. They will be the most affected both by the immediate and secondary impacts of the outbreak of COVID-19 and require our support to survive and thrive.