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Covid-19 has had a profound impact on young people

Analysis by Mark Tomlinson, Linda Richter, and Wiedaad Slemming

Original article published in News24

Photo: Delmaine de Wee

Photo: Delmaine de Wee

In the course of 12 months we have swiftly progressed from a somewhat distant worry about a virus in a wet market in a city in China that most of us had never heard of, to 108 153 741 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (as of 14 February 2021), including 2 381 295 deaths; over 600 new variants of the virus; four vaccines fully approved and a further six in early or limited use, and another 87 vaccines in various stages of development.

We have all become conversant with much of the science and how age, co-morbidities and inequality all interact to create a toxic mix for some groups more than others. However, one age group - children (0-18 years of age) - the group with the lowest risk of the serious direct effects of the virus - illness and death is the same group with the highest risk of all age groups of experiencing the indirect adverse effects of the pandemic and efforts to contain it.

In a country like South Africa, still struggling to control two other epidemics - HIV and TB - that have resulted in many children losing parents, we now have a pandemic where over 20% of all deaths occur amongst people over 65 years of age.

This means that children are losing grandparents who, in many cases, may be their primary caregiver and source of financial support. Illness, isolation and quarantine may result in newborns and young children being separated from their mothers, an experience that we know is devastating for infant and child development.

In South Africa's first hard lockdown, the impact on income and food security was catastrophic, exacerbated by hundreds of thousands of children not receiving school meals. The impact of food insecurity on child stunting and later development across the life course is well known, but it also resulted in fear and panic, anxiety and depression, and altered family and social relations.

Globally it is predicted that more than a million preventable child deaths will occur together with increasing rates of malnutrition and stunted growth. Approximately 1.5 billion children are not benefitting from continuous schooling due to rolling lockdowns across the world, with the likelihood that many children will never return to school.

Globally and in South Africa large numbers of families and children are without digital devices or internet connections, and poor children are going to fall even further behind in the education because they can't access "home schooling".


Read the full article on News24 here.


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