In 2022 we He will still feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us were counting numbers directly related to the virus – how many people were vaccinated, infected or hospitalized, how many people were on ventilators or died. But we tend to ignore the virus’s spillover effects – and the measures taken to prevent infection – on our most vulnerable citizens: children, adolescents and women. We must now turn our attention to this “shadow pandemic” if we are to have any hope of returning the world to normal.
While women, children and adolescents are no more likely than others to fall ill or die from the coronavirus, they have disproportionately experienced disruption to many of the services they depend on, due to shutdowns and diversion of vital resources.
Fewer than two in ten health-related activities in Covid-19 consider gender in any explicit way, according to the latest “Global Health 50/50” report, published in 2021. But without acknowledging the potential impact of crises on different genders and ages, we can take Very wrong choices. This is because decision makers, most of whom are men, tend to forget the weak.
For example, school closures during the pandemic have caused an education gap for many children and adolescents. Governments are working to keep education as open as possible, but not many have paid attention to the fact that, for millions of children, school lunch was their only meal of the day. Many countries have not even begun to plan or even think about how to reach these hungry children when school closures continue.
In 2022, we will also see the lingering effects of the shadow pandemic on global healthcare other than Covid. As hospital systems continue to focus on vaccination and treatment against the Covid-19 virus, routine immunization for many diseases (most of which have already been forgotten in the Western world) and essential access to maternal health care services have been neglected. As a result of the pandemic, for example, 39 percent of the 124 countries surveyed reported a decrease in coverage of family planning services, and 38 percent reported a decrease in coverage of prenatal and postnatal maternal health services.
Even before the pandemic, our world was not on track to meet many of the Sustainable Development Goals (established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 and aimed at achieving them by 2030) with regard to women and children. Closures and reallocation of resources in 2020 and 2021 exacerbated this situation. Combined with other crises affecting a large part of the world – ongoing conflict, climate change, economic slowdown – it will cause more people, including women and children, to suffer from ill health, undernutrition and hunger.
With Covid-19 infection rates declining, thanks to the successful introduction and uptake of vaccines, in 2022 we will turn our attention more to the shadow pandemic and its effects. It wouldn’t be reprehensible to be able to talk so loudly and candidly about the side effects of some of the policy measures we’ve put in place to deal with the virus. We will see that we have no choice but to allocate local and global resources, such as nutritious food and continuous health care services, to those who need them most. And we will all have to work to prevent further harm to these vulnerable groups and to repair the damage done so far.
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