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UNICEF: Focus on Elderly Hides Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Children 

FILE - A displaced boy, who fled the violence in Mosul, receives a measles vaccination from a UNICEF-supported health worker in Hamdaniyah, Iraq, Oct. 24, 2016.

A U.N. children’s fund report says not enough attention is being paid to how the coronavirus pandemic affects children. While the elderly are more vulnerable to the virus, the measures put in place to contain COVID-19 may have a far-reaching impact on the physical and mental well-being of kids around the world, it says.

The UNICEF report finds many of the measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus are necessary but could have a catastrophic impact on children.

Laurence Chandy, lead author of the report and the director of UNICEF’s Office of Global Insight Policy, said few children’s lives are unaffected by the pandemic, noting that 60% of all children globally live in countries where full or partial lockdowns are in place.

“The unprecedented simultaneous closure of schools across the world is affecting alone 1½ billion children,” Chandy said. “Almost all children in the world. … The report also mentions the more than 360 million children across 143 countries who rely on school meals.”

Chandy said children are no longer getting what for many are their only meals of the day now that schools are shut down. He said child protection services also are largely closed, leaving children exposed to domestic violence and other forms of abuse and exploitation.

So far, the coronavirus itself has not killed many children. But Chandy said its indirect impact on child health is likely to be calamitous. He noted immunization campaigns around the world have been put on hold.

“That will set back the global campaigns on polio by years, I suspect. … There are 23 countries we count around the world that have put on hold their measles inoculation campaigns,” Chandy said. “The effects narrowly of the global recession on infant mortality, one would expect, would result in hundreds of thousands of additional deaths, child deaths, this year.”

UNICEF is calling on governments to broaden their focus beyond the narrow count of new cases and new deaths from COVID-19. It said a more balanced approach is needed to deal with the new risks arising from the pandemic that are threatening the lives of children around the world.