Children’s Health Amid a PandemicBy Miriam Bello | Wed, 05/06/2020 - 11:48
As adults, we have more knowledge and experience to understand the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on health, society and economy. Still, it has generated many struggles both physically and mentally. Children, however, perceive the situation differently.
Children were not included in the high-risk groups affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus but there have been cases of children with COVID-19, some even fatal, nonetheless. A study by NEJM concluded that infant COVID-19 cases are rare. Moreover, the children infected can present mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, which is why there are less reported cases of children with COVID-19. There is also no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through intrauterine vertical transmission but experts recommend no lactation if the mother is COVID-19-positive. Mexico has around 100 reported cases of COVID-19 in children, most of them being boys.
By now, it is known that vulnerability to the virus goes beyond an age bracket. It also depends on your context, your way of life, your surroundings, income, family and country. In children, these factors can be much more determinant. Since the beginning of the pandemic, children have been deprived from their traditional education. Parents are also forced to stay at home, meaning that many of them will likely lose their income. In Mexico, the informal economy, one of the most affected by the pandemic, accounts 56.7 percent of the jobs and according to a report by Proceso, this represents the daily support of millions of families in the country.
Having more families in vulnerable situations means more children caring for younger siblings, being sent to work and not complying with hygiene and preventive measures established by Ministry of Health. Access to medical attention is also limited because families rely fully on the government as their income does not allow access to private healthcare.
According to UNICEF, Mexico has 47 percent of its population in poverty. Twenty percent of this population are children and 4 percent of them live in extreme poverty conditions. At least in Mexico City, there are 500 thousand children working and 337 homeless children, according to the head of the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico, these two groups are highly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Mexico is aware of the importance of children’s health and their vulnerability, which is why the government developed several programs such as IMSS-Prospera (formerly, IMSS-Oportunidades), Salud Materna, PROSPERA Inclusión Social en sus componentes de salud y alimentación, Programa de Apoyo Alimentario, Seguro Médico Siglo XXI and Unidades Médicas Móviles (formerly, Caravanas de la Salud). The government also recently introduced INSABI with the goal of achieving universal healthcare for the population that had no social security, such as IMSS or ISSSTE. While all these initiatives target healthcare, according to a report made by Save the Children, none of them (except INSABI) have clear results on how they have effectively improved children’s health.
Aside from physical vulnerabilities, there also phycological ones. Safety and protection when family and community connections are stable and nurturing contribute to a child’s mental health. Right now, however, there are 1.5 billion children out of school globally, meaning they have to stay at home and under lockdown. Mexico is the No. 1 country in children violence, homicide and abuse.
The World Economic Forum has issued recommendations to support children during these difficult times. The list includes immediate public and private investments in mental health and psychosocial services and programs for children, community-based policies that apply to the specific context of children and, above all, thinking of them and their needs first.