COVID-2 Pandemic & Children


COVID-2 Pandemic & Children
Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

There are worries for the children for now and for the future. Public Health is the Art of Science and the Art of Prevention of Diseases and Promotion of Health. The use of potable water instead of contaminated water was the first step in the prevention of diseases. Potable water is a fundamental human right enshrined in the constitution. It is recommended and publicized to do thorough hand washing. When clean water is not available to the public how can it be done! 40% diseases are due to the use of contaminated water with micro-organisms and chemicals. Immunization was the next and the greatest triumph of Medical Science: the ability to protect children from the disease that used to make children sick and even kill them. Recently there has been surge in the incidence of measles even in advanced countries like UK, USA etc.

Lt. Gen. (R) Mahmud Ahmad Akhtar

In Pakistan immunization rate is less than 12%. Measles causes high fatality in children- also causes blindness damaging cornea in mal-nourished children. There is a danger of resurge of diphtheria, whooping cough, polio etc. Due to Pandemic fear, parents are afraid of taking the children to clinics for immunization. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world still having cases of polio. Since last year there has been increase in the polio cases. There is a danger of further increase in the polio if the preventive immunization is affected adversely.

It is pathetic that over 80% of vaccines are not produced in the country and with the upheaval it is difficult to procure vaccines. Furthermore there is an economic crises which leads to difficulties in obtaining vaccines. There is a strong prejudice against vaccination-Lack of education, illiteracy is an important factor. The government should make an all-out effort to create awareness through all types of media. In the education curriculum there should be special emphasis in teaching about health, diseases etc.

Emotional Trauma
and Population Control

Pakistan already has population explosion and is suffering from its adverse effects. Pakistan has the highest birth rate in the region- also one of the highest in the world. Bangladesh former East Pakistan which had larger population than Pakistan (West Pakistan) now has population of 160 million while Pakistan’s population is above 220 million. There is a likelihood of a surge in Pakistan’s population. Contraceptives are not produced in Pakistan. Population control measures should be intensified.

Emotional Trauma and Anxiety

Even children as old as three, four and five years express anxiety about the virus. Children are living in an anxious world right now- as grown up are- living with their scared anxious parents. Many children are losing people they love or at the very least are terrified at loosing people they love. No question that parent everywhere are doing their best but children are going to need a lot of help, now and in the future to deal with their feelings and fears.

Developmental Impacts

As children grow and change, their vulnerabilities change as well. The main worry now is that they are missing out on many critical connections with parents and grandparents, connection with extended family and with other children- all of which are so critical for their social and emotional development.

Dr. Marilyn Augustyn, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center USA, sorted the top developmental worries by age: that toddlers will have learned that we need to be afraid of other people, wear masks and stay across the other side of the street if we see them. The Preschoolers, who tend towards magical thinking will- think that deprivations- the padlocked play grounds/parks- are a punishment for doing something bad and the middle school children and adolescents will have consumed astronomical volumes of online media and now will forget how to disconnect.

Vulnerable Population

We understand that poverty is poisonous for children. The Pandemic is on course to increase poverty and hit hardest on poor and minority communities. Already poor, health care will suffer more. Social safety net is already very poor, it will further deteriorate. There is a dire need for the Universal Health Care System as is practiced in Sri Lanka in this region and many middle low income countries. The State looks after the health, education and other essential requirements i.e. school meal etc. Pakistan is called the Islamic Republic. This signifies social, democratic, welfare state.

Educational Disparities

There are already severe educational disparities in Pakistan. There are many public schools particularly in the rural areas having no base facilities of potable water, latrines, even electricity and boundary walls etc. - also untrained teachers. While there are luxurious educational facilities in the Private Schools in the urban areas.

Having online school is impossible for children living below poverty. In Pakistan 60 to 70 % population lives below or just above the poverty line. Twenty two million children are already out of schools. A large number of children are malnourished suffering from wasting, stunting affecting physical and mental development jeopardizing their own future and the future of the Nation/Country. Children are the future of the country. Amongst the 22 million children, many Quaid e Azam’s, Allama Iqbal’s, Dr. Abdul Salam’s and other talents are lost.

Child Abuse: Children were home with the parents who were under stress. The usual check and balance was missing. There were physical, mental and emotional abuses.

Missing Treatments: Due to the Pandemic Health Care workers are heavily involved with Corona patients. Out-doors were closed. It appears that there is no other diagnoses. Many parents are afraid of taking children to hospitals/clinics due to fear of Corona. Children with special needs are suffering more.

Concerns about the Future: There are deep concerns about the future. There are worries that in the crises, locked with homes, children are in danger of becoming invisible. Children are not essential employees or front line heroes, they are not voters or consumers but they are a Nation’s future. Children cannot be kept out of schools for very long periods. There is very little risk of spread of the infection in children with proper precautions if it is followed by schools and the children. They should be introduced to schools gradually keeping an eye on the cases. This Pandemic has exposed that health and education received very low rather no priority in Pakistan. Even potable water an essential need, a fundamental human right enshrined in constitutions not available to the large segment of the population. There is contamination of water with viruses, bacteria, chemicals etc. Not even available to a large number of people for washing hands.

Our priorities are lopsided, we have spent our meagre resources on luxurious projects- more on bricks and mortar in elite cities where there was a need for traffic light, expensive fly overs were built, where there was a need of country road luxurious avenues were built, where there was a need for buses, metros were built. We need to set our priorities right! Where we needed prevention of diseases, promotion of health, a network of primary and secondary care and cost effective tertiary units, we built Disease Palaces. We followed the policy of Elitism- for the Elites-by the Elites.

Playing/exercises- both indoor, outdoor with proper precautions should be carried out. Food/ nutrition of children should especially be cared for. Those who cannot afford expensive items of food should pick cost effective ones like whole grams/ lentils, beans, veges, low cost fruits, seeds like flax alsi, chia, melon, and others. The government should provide subsidized meals. Children should be encouraged to spend time with elders/grandparents etc.

Children should have hobbies, drawing, painting, music, vocal instruments, bird watching etc. A child should be told about the ways of disinfection and we should see to it that they are done properly- flushing after putting down the lids, avoid touching the faucets, door knobs etc. Children are the future of the Nation/Country. They should get full attention of the family, society, the Government etc. Sadly this is not happening. Over 40 million are suffering from malnutrition, stunting etc. jeopardizing their future and also of the Nation. The State should fulfill its constitutional duties to develop children properly.