The indirect impact of COVID-19 on children of the South

Now that several months have passed since Covid-19 became a global pandemic, a number of patterns have become clear as regards the direct impact of the illness. It affects mostly elderly people with prior medical conditions, prior environmental pollution plays a considerable role and the virus seems to thrive in the land band between 20 and 40 degrees of latitude, which is where most of the significant outbreaks have been witnessed (Wuhan, Milan, Madrid and New York). Children are hardly directly affected by the virus, although it’s still unclear how easily they can spread the virus without showing any symptoms themselves.

A recent paper by UNICEF, however, has noted that while children are not the face of this pandemic, they risk being among its biggest victims. The indirect impact on children will be severe and enduring, but children will be impacted differently depending on whether they live in the Global North or South. Those in the North are likely to feel the effect of the lockdowns and ensuing recession, which is exacerbated by the effect on their parents of the fragmentation and liberalization of the labour market over the last 20 to 30 years.

Those living in the Global South face different challenges. The susceptibility of the virus is thought to be lower because of less intensive territorial mobility and a much lower median age of the population. UNICEF also notes that although countries such as India have imposed a lockdown, this tool “is likely to be less effective in developing than developed countries because of the very large informal sector which makes it impracticable as well as difficult to police”.

Lockdowns also make less sense because the health capacity to treat the most serious cases is low or non-existent. UNICEF therefore goes so far as to say that lockdowns may not be desirable in the Global South even from a mortality perspective because the health costs, including malnutrition and hunger, of the consequent loss in employment and earnings could be huge.

The abovementioned predictions are supported by a separate UNICEF policy brief containing more specific data. Worrying predictions include that the pandemic could push 42-66 million children into extreme poverty this year and that the economic hardship will result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020, reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year. Moreover, the countrywide school closures that have been imposed in 188 countries are impacting developing countries in a disproportionate way. While more than two-thirds of countries where a lockdown is in effect have introduced a national distance learning platform, only 30 percent of low-income countries have done so.

Edited by: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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