The world faces a global healthcare crisis that we urgently need to address.
When children live in unstable family environments or lose crucial family ties at an early age, it can have irreversible consequences for the rest of their lives.
This is what we see in our work, day after day.
We see this when we meet children like eight-month-old Aleksander * and his 10-year-old sister Natalyia, both of whom live in Ukraine. Tragically, they recently lost their mother who was raising them as a single parent. Local child welfare authorities handed them over to their father, Ivan. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ivan lost his job and also found himself unable to adequately support children.
The pandemic has exacerbated the suffering of children like Alexander and Natalyia around the world.
The pandemic and the measures taken to mitigate it have had a negative impact on every child, every family, every community. But it has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
Millions of people like Ivan, who already struggled to make ends meet before the emergence of COVID-19, now face many additional responsibilities and stresses, and find it almost impossible to deal with effectively. of their children.
Children suffer disproportionately
Many children have lost their parents or other primary caregivers to the virus. According to a study published in The Lancet, “more than 1.5 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent, custodial grandparent or grandparent living with them due to death related to childbearing. COVID-19 in the first 14 months of the pandemic. ”. This suggests that for every two adults who die from COVID-19, one child is left without a caregiver.
These children are often in the care of another family member, who most often struggles with the additional financial burden. Orphaned children who cannot be cared for by a family member, on the other hand, are placed in the care of the state, which has a lasting impact on their lives.
But it’s not just the children who have lost a primary caregiver who are suffering because of the pandemic.
The pandemic has left hundreds of millions of children living in heightened poverty, social exclusion and even hunger. Many families, who have not experienced a pandemic-related death, are struggling to stay afloat and find themselves unable to meet the most basic needs of their children.
Anxiety and mental health issues caused by the pandemic are also ravaging families and consequently children. Many parents and other primary caregivers are under unprecedented pressure due to financial insecurity, lack of child care, school closures, and limited or no access to health care or support. other services and benefits. Mental health and psychosocial support needs are not sufficiently recognized and services are often not available.
This has led to an increase in child abuse and neglect. And many parents have resorted to desperate measures, such as sending their children away. The number of children placed in alternative care under our programs, due to the inability of caregivers to continue caring for them, increased by 26% in 2020 compared to 2019.
The children themselves have told us how the pandemic has negatively affected their lives. Some said they no longer felt safe at home.
The # CovidUnder19 initiative global survey, in which more than 26,000 children and young adults from 137 countries participated, found that children living in alternative care often felt worried, bored or sad during the pandemic.
Young adults also suffered disproportionately during these difficult times. Many of those who left our care programs shortly before the pandemic came back to us in search of support, saying they had lost their jobs, found themselves unable to continue their education remotely, or could not pay. their rent.
And this child care crisis is growing even more.
Delays and unequal access to immunization in many parts of the world put more and more children and guardians at risk – leaving many more children at risk of losing their parents and guardians.
We cannot just sit back and let this continue.
The pandemic has exposed an ongoing healthcare crisis in every corner of the world. While some governments have implemented emergency support for families, in some contexts support has been non-existent.
Civil society has mobilized to help meet the most urgent needs of families and children. However, this does not provide a long term sustainable solution.
What it will take to resolve this unprecedented crisis is political will and financial commitment.
Governments must lead the response to this urgent crisis to prevent further harm to individuals, families and society as a whole.
This requires a systematic, coordinated and well-documented emergency response that focuses on the most vulnerable. This includes services for all children and their families such as education, health, mental health and psychosocial support, parental support as well as other direct support services such as cash transfers, family allowances. universal or other income support measures.
Better access to vaccines around the world is also essential – it is the only way to contain the pandemic. Never has it been so clear to all of us that we can only protect our own health by protecting the health of all.
And finally, governments must invest in child protection systems that can meet long-term care needs. It gives every child a better chance for success in life.
The private sector, civil society, children and their families must all be part of the solution alongside governments. It is the only way for children like Aleksander and Nataliya to have a fair chance in life.
We all need to do our part. Everything is on the bridge. The world will be a better place if every child receives love and support.
* All names have changed.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.