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Why are children and adolescents not at the centre of everything we do?


Focusing decisions through the lens of children’s well-being is how the government must address hardships brought about by the pandemic – as well as the decisions we make in everyday life.

One of the things about a pandemic is that suddenly there is a seemingly endless array of experts telling us about mask wearing, nutrition, infection, behaviour change, the differences between physical and social distancing, and how to preserve our mental well-being during lockdown. We have infectious disease experts, education experts, public health experts, commerce and industry experts – not to mention the social media and communication experts among them. 

One of the things about experts, however, is that for the most part what they do best is push their own agendas – and often very narrow ones. In public health, we would call this a siloed approach. You are an HIV expert, and your task is to get as much funding for HIV research and treatment as possible, and for you this is the number one health priority that you advocate for. Whether obesity and non-communicable diseases kill as many or more people every year is only peripherally your concern. Mostly this is fine because knowledge and expertise are useful and pushing an agenda has its place. 

But what happens in a pandemic, when seeing the bigger picture – and not simply your own narrow agenda – is of paramount importance. 

Having said this, pushing an agenda is normal and inevitable, and those doing it should continue doing so. But in the context of a seemingly endless array of priorities and a catastrophic lockdown, is there one thing we could perhaps use to better guide our responses – to the pandemic now, but also into the post-Covid-19 world? Is there a single issue, a single group that can be placed centre stage and whose interests be considered as primary? 

As a thought exercise, what would happen if South Africa were to place the interests of children front and centre of all policy and responses? 

Read the answers by our co-director, Mark Tomlinson, in this Daily Maverick opinion piece.

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