By Megan Avakian
A new commentary from the World Health Organization (WHO)-UNICEF-Lancet Commission highlights the impacts of COVID-19 on children and calls for putting children at the center of recovery plans. The commentary is a follow on to a report released by the Commission in February 2020 which makes the case for placing children’s health at the forefront of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The Commission includes members of the Network of WHO Collaborating Centres for Children's Environmental Health, which NIEHS created and coordinates.
The authors emphasize that although children are less likely to experience direct health effects from COVID-19, they suffer from indirect effects of the pandemic, such as food insecurity, reduced access to health and social services, school closures, and mental health challenges.
Furthermore, with the pandemic expected to drive a steep increase in global poverty and malnutrition, the Commission warns of health effects that can last a lifetime. “Malnutrition and poverty in pregnancy and early childhood can negatively influence children’s physical health and cognitive trajectories throughout the life course,” the authors wrote. Additionally, COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to children who are poor, disabled, or from racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups.
“Yet recovery and adaptation to COVID-19 can be used to build a better world for children and future generations,” wrote the authors. Echoing the theme of the Commission’s February 2020 report, they call for COVID-19 recovery plans that focus on child health and wellbeing, highlighting that what is good for children is good for societies.
To achieve a child-centered pandemic recovery, the Commission recommends including experts on children’s issues on legislative working groups and asking children what changes they would like to see. Working across sectors and at the local level are also critical to implement changes that put children first. The authors also draw connections between a child-focused COVID-19 recovery and climate policy, writing that “action for children also means action on the climate emergency.”
To close, the Commission reminds readers that the policy choices made today will shape our future for years to come, and propose an overarching question to guide to countries’ recovery efforts: “Are we making the world better for children?”