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Save the Children raises alarm over safety of African children as COVID-19 cases increase

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AS the number of Covid-19 cases across Africa rises dramatically this week, healthcare systems that serve the most vulnerable and marginalised children and families in the world will come under ever-increasing strain, warns Save the Children.

The NGO in a statement issued on Thursday further warned that the lives of thousands of children on the African continent could be at risk, if the virus continues to spread at this rate.

The humanitarian organisation stated that “there are now at least 2,412 confirmed cases across 43 countries in Africa – an increase of more than 500 per cent since  March 17 – with only nine countries without a confirmed case.”

South Africa has the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Burkina Faso, raising concerns the virus could overwhelm the health system if infection rates continue to rise, it said.

According to Save the Children, a spike in Covid-19 cases could risk disrupting nutrition, immunisation and other health services for children if facilities become overstretched, health workers fall ill or families might stay away because of fears of contracting  the virus.

“This would impact efforts aimed at saving children from acute malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea,” it said.

Save the Children lamented that households would have less income to meet their basic needs as markets close and restrictions to movement are put into place.

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To support children and their families in affected countries on the African continent and across the globe, Save the Children launched an appeal to raise an initial 30 million dollars in the coming months.

Inevitably, as the response progresses, this financial need will go up.

With the funds, Save the Children said it aims to strengthen its programmes that protect children in countries that are hit by the virus, increase support for national health systems and raise awareness among parents and caregivers on how to provide mental support to children.

The funds, it added, would also be used to support children who have lost parents.

It called on the international community to increase their funding to support national governments’ efforts in their response to the pandemic and save children’s lives.

African governments already have responded to the Covid-19 outbreak over the past few months in several ways, including curfews, flight bans, lockdowns and major public awareness and sanitation campaigns.

However, given the rapid rise in confirmed cases across the continent, Save the Children believes that more needs to be done to prevent a larger outbreak.

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Save the Children’s Regional Advocacy Director, Eric Hazard said: “While we know donors have many demands on them, it is critical that we do not draw back from our global responsibility now.

“We can see right in front of us that if we ignore a COVID-19 outbreak in one country, it will quickly lead to more cases in another.

“We must support countries with weaker health systems and stand with the poorest and most marginalised communities who do have the means to support and protect themselves from the impact of this outbreak.

“International donors must invest in supporting countries to scale up their health systems, with particular support for countries that have less capacity to manage the outbreak, so that the impact on highly vulnerable children and their families is minimised as much as possible.”

Hazard said Save the Children was urging all governments to take additional steps to ensure the right information reaches vulnerable communities before case numbers increase to potentially overwhelming levels, including practical measures such as ensuring all communities have access to basic sanitary supplies.
Others are sharing accurate and age-appropriate COVID-19 prevention information with communities via national media and child-friendly press conferences; developing and rolling out clear, child-friendly public information campaigns to give children and their families the information they need to protect themselves from infection; ensuring access to education for all children, even if schools are closed, for example by distance learning (online or via radio); and combatting misinformation about COVID-19 that can increase anxiety and distress among children and adults.

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