Covid-19’s devastating impact on children

The latest State of the World’s Children report shows worrisome statistics among children across the globe.

12 October 2021 | Health

MARISELLE STOFBERG

WINDHOEK

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) recently launched its State of the World’s Children report for 2021, focusing on mental health.

The report takes the most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century.

It also takes into account the impact of Covid-19 on children around the world.

According to Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director, children around the world have been locked out of classrooms, sequestered in their homes and robbed of the everyday joy of playing with friends – all consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Millions more families have been pushed into poverty, unable to make ends meet. Child labour, abuse and gender-based violence are on the rise. Many children are filled with sadness, hurt or anxiety.

“Some are wondering where this world is headed and what their place is in it. Indeed, these are very challenging times for children and young people, and this is the state of their world in 2021,” Fore said.

Other health factors

The onset of the pandemic found many children already vulnerable to poor outcomes in health, nutrition, sanitation, learning and access to social services.

Between 2002 and 2018, the under-five mortality rate decreased from 72 per 1 000 live births to 39.6. The proportion of new-born deaths, accounting for approximately half of under-five deaths, continues to increase as the under-five deaths decreases. Prematurity, birth asphyxia and sepsis are leading preventable causes of deaths among neonates.

Immunisation coverage remains sub-optimal in Namibia, according to 2020 statistics. Measles-rubella first dose (MR1) has stagnated around 80% over the past years, which is below the 95% required to achieve and sustain measles elimination.

The MR2 coverage stands at 50%, three years after its introduction.

Malnutrition is high in Namibia, with one in four children stunted nationally, and two in three among the San population.

In addition, most children under-five in Namibia have no access to early childhood development (ECD) services and pre-primary education (PPE), with only13% of children aged zero to four attending ECD centres, and 31% enrolled in PPE.

Furthermore, 87% of children with disabilities 0-4 years old have no access to ECD services.

Mental health

The report stated that globally, more than one in seven adolescents aged between 10 and 19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder.

Across the globe, almost 46 000 adolescents die from suicide each year, which is among the top five causes of death for this age group.

The report says big gaps still persist worldwide between mental health needs and mental health funding.

“It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us – especially children. With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself,” said Fore.

“The impact is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg. Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues. Too little investment is being made by governments to address these critical needs. Not enough importance is being placed on the relationship between mental health and future life outcomes,” she said.

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