Coronavirus continues to have a devastating impact across the globe on children and their rights, widening disparities, increasing gender (and other) inequalities, and leaving the poorest behind. The pandemic has affected children and their families in so many ways, with decreased access to life-saving health and nutrition services, and countless children left without caregivers, without an education, and in serious danger.
In Africa, an already turbulent life has seen new challenges for many families, with a 15% rise in multi-dimensional poverty and 33% of children affected by country-wide school closures since 2020. Vaccine access in countries such as Uganda continues to be poor, and with the new Omicron variant it is more important than ever that we increase access to healthcare services so that protection is available to all.
In Uganda the country I come from, a drastic measures were taken in 2021 to protect public health, but this led to further hardship as many businesses and educational institutions closed, and many hospitals and medical centres faced over-capacity and a fight for resources. More than 2.5 million more families – in an already struggling country – found themselves experiencing extreme poverty, with little access to food, clean water and healthcare.
Covid-19 has forced all countries and economies across the world to adapt in ways unimaginable to us just 2 years ago; public health systems – even those struggling to find resources – had plans and intended outcomes that have seen drastically increased needs and demanded more rapid response. Sustainable Development Goals such as a world without poverty, and a child in every school, have been made more difficult, yet more critical, to work tirelessly toward achieving. With this unprecedented situation, efforts made to counteract the impact of the virus has taught healthcare workers and policy makers alike the importance of planning for any eventuality, to ensure that no child gets left behind. The sad reality is that children growing up through this pandemic are being dubbed ‘the lost generation’. A label I cannot come to terms with.
Additionally, the world crisis has highlighted the importance of service workers/ professionals to our communities; gone are the days when health workers, social workers and supermarket employees – who have been critical in keeping our local economies and our families alive – will continue to be overlooked. Frontline workers have taught us that all levels of the workforce matter, and much-needed volunteers of charities and non-profit organizations at last are receiving the credit they deserve for the vital work that they do.
As I chatted with friends at the New year to catch up on their break, it hit home for me, just how important family time has become for all of us. With around 70% of all full-time workers forced to work from home, the ability to be more involved with our families and home life has not been overlooked. Meanwhile, for those who were unable to see loved ones due to lockdowns, risk of infection or travel restrictions, we will no longer take for granted the time we are able to connect in-person with those that mean the most to us. This newfound gratitude for real-time interactions – in an age when technology is at the forefront of most exchanges – is one of very few positive changes to come out of this sensitive situation.
As we begin a new year, with the pandemic still continuing to affect our daily lives, it is vital that we reflect on the lessons learned over the past 2 years to continue building the foundations of a stronger, better future for our children, our families and our communities across the world. Meaningful interactions, an increased understanding of people and the work that they do, and adaptability in the face of adversity, give us hope that we can work together to fight this, but we cannot forget the things we have been taught or we risk reverting back to a less unified world in which those in the most need are left behind.
While none of us know when this pandemic is likely to subside, we enter 2022 with hope for a brighter year, as we work together to support one another through this crisis and toward a stronger, more equal future for all.