UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Diagnostic Methods Build the Foundation of Outbreak ControlDisease outbreaks are frequently portrayed by the news and other media as two-step occurrences: disease strikes, then people die. What’s left untold are the in-between moments that are crucial to outbreak investigation and disease outbreak control. Disease testing, the essential step of the diagnostic process, is one of the most useful tools in stabilizing disease outbreaks and preventing them from worsening.

The case of Ebola in Liberia provides an example of how breakthrough disease-testing methods can save thousands of lives. Jude Senguku, one of the leading physicians who treated Ebola patients in Liberia, told BBC that misinformation, panic and misdiagnosis kept people from seeking help at the onset of symptoms.

People knew very little about the deadly disease and feared being sent to Ebola isolation units. Public health workers needed better diagnostic methods to screen people for Ebola in order to obtain medical evidence that would support or invalidate a diagnosis.

For Monrovia’s Redemption Hospital, the solution came in the form of GeneXpert, a machine that rapidly tests for Ebola and provides results within 90 minutes.

At the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, there were 50 licensed doctors for a population of 4.3 million. To provide each symptomatic person a one-on-one doctor visit was both unfeasible and impractical. During and after the outbreak, GeneXpert allowed health care workers, including volunteers with limited medical training, to accurately test patients for the presence of the Ebola virus and direct them to care in time to receive life-saving treatment.

Senguku says that since 2014, GeneXpert was “very critical” in reducing Ebola scares and restoring Monrovia’s confidence in their doctors.

The technology uses a process called DNA amplification, which tests a human specimen — cheek cells, saliva, etc. — for the disease’s specific DNA sequence. In contrast to other diagnostic methods, the technology can identify extremely low amounts of viral DNA as well as drug-resistant strains, which makes it incredibly sensitive and accurate. The machine, which is used for multiple tests, costs about $17,000. The test cartridge, which is used in every test per person, costs a mere $10.

One of the technology’s most valuable features is its usability. The health care worker administering the test does not need to be trained to identify a specific disease. Rather, they simply need to know how to operate the machine. Moreover, because of its low dependence on electricity, GeneXpert is an ideal diagnostic tool for regions with limited access to power.

The diagnostic process plays a critical role in outbreak control, stabilizing population health and providing a sense of security to an affected community. Events like the Ebola outbreak of 2014 serve as examples of how improved diagnostic methods are helping health care workers deliver faster and more efficient care under strenuous circumstances.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr

Isle of ManLocated in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is a generally wealthy country known for its low taxes, financial services and online gambling industries. However, this overall wealth does not signify economic prosperity for every citizen.

In recent years there has been a rise in the rates of hunger in the Isle of Man. Captain Simon Clampton from the Salvation Army tells the BBC, “when people think of the Isle of Man they think of an affluent society but we have a hidden problem”.

In 2012 the Manx Salvation Army reported increasing rates of hunger, as indicated by the over 500 food appeals made by individuals and families. Although this number may seem insignificant compared to the 87,545 population (as of 2015), hunger rates are expected to increase. In an effort to assist the “hidden hungry“, multiple organizations have created and donated to food banks on the Isle of Man.

A Steering committee has planned to establish food banks throughout the island, based on the current U.K. system. Sue Johnson, a member of the committee thinks that many citizens suffering from hunger in the Isle of Man may be hesitant to ask for help.

This reality could explain why hunger rates in the country have yet to be officially reported by the CIA World Fact Book. However, the committee is devoted to helping anyone in need of assistance. Johnson tells the BBC, “I think we will be surprised at not only the amount of people who come forward, but with the type of people who come forward. These are difficult economic times and we want to put in a system which acts as a sort of safety net”.

The Isle of Man Food Bank, established in 2013, provides those in need not only with food, but also diapers and other baby items, toiletries, kitchen utensils and guidance.

The food bank, along with the Housing Matters homeless charity organization, started gardening in 2015 to supplement donations to the food bank.

The Salvation Army, Housing Matters, Crossroads Care, the Church of England and local homeless charity Kemmryk have all contributed to the food bank project on the Isle of Man.

Although hunger in the Isle of Man has been on the rise since 2012, recent food bank projects are working to support citizens who are struggling financially.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Researchers from Michigan State University have found a way to defeat malaria by making mosquitoes resistant to the malaria parasite. The investigators determined that when infected with a specific bacterium, mosquitoes have an increased malaria immunity, which could help reduce human infections and deaths related to the disease.

Wolbachia bacterium is what is credited for providing an increased resistance to malaria in mosquito populations. Temporary infection of the bacterium has “made the insects immune to the malaria parasite,” and after 34 generations of mosquitos mating and passing the Wolbachia from infected females to their offspring, the mosquitos demonstrated malaria levels which were four times lower than mosquitoes that were not infected with the bacterium.

While the Wolbachia infected mosquitoes resist malaria and can pass their immunity too their offspring, the new research on the mosquitoes has found some limitations. Scientists say that the “[bacteria] infected females produced fewer eggs than uninfected females, which meant the infection would struggle to spread in the real world.” Additionally, the research only focused on one species of mosquitoes that inhabits the Middle East and South Asia. Research on Wolbachia still needs to be carried out on African mosquitoes.

In the past, researchers looked to genetically modify mosquitoes to help eliminate the spread of malaria. Investigators at Johns Hopkins University developed a genetically engineered mosquito that showed resistant to the disease in 2007. The University’s current research is investigating what factors exist in mosquito immune systems that allow the insects to fight off the malaria infection.

The World Health Organization estimates that “220 million people are infected annually and 660,000 die” from malaria. Scientists hope that their discoveries, paired with the use of mosquito nets and medication, will help reduce the number of malaria infections and deaths in the future.

– Jordan Kline

Sources: BBC, The Daily Mail
Photo: The Katy News