Our response to the biggest health crisis in a century
In a global crisis of this magnitude, itʼs clear the most vulnerable will suffer the most, especially children. While the jury is out as to how susceptible children are to the virus itself, thereʼs no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to heighten risks to children and impact their lives forever.
Save the Children’s responsibility is to the safety and wellbeing of the children and families who rely on our programs; the safety and wellbeing of our staff; and a commitment, wherever possible, to continue to deliver our services. A world that is changing requires changing how we work.
We’re protecting children in Australia, across the Pacific and around the world through providing water and soap for washing hands, providing face masks, training health workers, and keeping children playing and learning. Read more below on how we’re tackling COVID-19 to protect children everywhere.
Protecting Australian children
In Australia, the economic ramifications of shutdowns across the country have hit hard. And for the 1.1. million Australian children already living in poverty, their disadvantage will become more entrenched, as unemployment levels skyrocket, and families struggle to pay rent and afford essentials. For vulnerable children, more time at home may increase their risk of harm; from neglect or abuse, to falling out of the education system altogether.
To ensure we can continue to protect at-risk children, where possible our programs are moving online or to alternative delivery methods. For example, we are continuing to maintain connection with families and ‘line of sight’ for particularly vulnerable children through one-to-to support, including coaching for families. We are mentoring at-risk young people through face-to-face sessions with social distancing, or on virtual and phone platforms, where we can’t have in-person meetings. Our family violence refuges in Queensland and South Australia remain open and are adapting their ways of working with families at risk.
Keeping kids connected to learning
We’re also making sure kids can continue to learn and play with virtual or smaller Play2Learn group sessions for pre-school children and their families. In the Northern Territory our Play2Learn playgroups are taking place on country, teaching kids English and their local language, and fishing, hunting and gathering skills.
While children are at home, they need the right tools to keep learning. We’re doing resource drops to families including books, Lego and other educational materials. We’re ensuring they can still participate in learning through online storytime and other learning platforms.
For many vulnerable children, by the time the schools reopen to all, it may already be too late. Having switched off school, they may never return. To ensure they’re not left behind, our Hands On Learning program is pivoting to support young people at risk of educational disengagement through remote and digital support to help keep them connected with their learning and peer groups and support their psychosocial development. We are continuing to work one-on-one with students to coach them through this challenging period with online resources, materials and project ideas.
Meeting the ongoing needs of Australian children in this uncertain environment is critical if we are going to keep them engaged, healthy and protected from the impact of COVID-19.
Aboriginal children are continuing to learn on country while in isolation.
Photo: Save the Children
Supporting Pacific health services
Many Pacific Islands nations are ill-equipped to manage an outbreak of COVID-19, with overall weak health systems and a high number of co-morbidities in their populations which will increase the number of deaths.
In Papua New Guinea for example, almost half of all children suffer from the impacts of malnutrition and stunting. Most children arenʼt immunised, and PNG has already seen sizeable measles and polio outbreaks. According to the World Health Organization, about 40 per cent of the regionʼs population of almost 10 million have been diagnosed with a noncommunicable disease; notably cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. The risks of COVID-19 to those diagnosed with these conditions are grave.
In the Solomon Islands, only a handful of respirators are available and there are no intensive care units. Thereʼs no capability to test for COVID-19 in-country. Even where this exists elsewhere in the region, the limited testing capacity will be quickly overwhelmed.
Vanuatu, already battered after Cyclone Harold, could see the gathering of a perfect health, economic and social storm, as rising unemployment leads to even more pronounced levels of social disadvantage.
We’re supporting our Pacific neighbours to help prevent the spread of the virus before it causes indescribable damage.
In the Solomon Islands we’re working with more than 60 communities to ensure that key messages about COVID-19 reach children and their families in rural areas.
In Papua New Guinea we are rolling out awareness messages by SMS and on local radio with five health jingles commissioned by Save the Children. Weʼre also shifting to virtual platforms and alternatives to face-to-face engagement where technology will allow, to provide continuity of learning to vulnerable children. In Papua New Guinea we are modifying our existing projects using SMS, radio and social media to distribute learning materials to parents and caregivers and making resource drops of books and other educational materials to isolated children.
In Vanuatu where Cyclone Harold has destroyed up to half the health facilities in affected areas, we are promoting hand washing and hygiene, distributing soap and hand sanitiser, installing handwashing stations and repairing toilets. We are also providing vital personal protective equipment and medical supplies and supporting the training of health workers.
In the race against COVID-19, we have to make sure children won’t be left behind in their most formative early years. We can’t lose this generation’s potential to the pandemic.
Supporting the most vulnerable
In the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar there is limited capacity to treat serious COVID-19 symptoms. There is little infrastructure like medical tents, let alone running water, soap or electricity. If COVID-19 cases appear, out of the nearly million refugees, hundreds of thousands of families will struggle to survive the illness.
With almost no internet access, many families don’t yet understand the grave threat they are facing. We’re on the ground letting people know what COVID-19 is, how to spot symptoms, and what they can do to protect themselves. We’ve stepped up hygiene promotion in the camps, installing over 500 extra handwashing spots, repairing toilets and showing people the most effective way to wash their hands to stop the spread.
We’ve prepared four medical teams who are ready to respond when the first cases appear. They have isolation beds at their disposal, and an estimated 160 will be ready in just a few weeks.
Our medical teams are ready to respond in Cox’s Bazaar.
Photo: Allison Joyce / Save the Children
Responding with a global effort
Save the Children has been responding to disasters and disease outbreaks for 100 years. In this new fight, Save the Children Australia is harnessing the strength of our global organisation to respond to the outbreak in over 100 countries and make sure no child is left behind.
In Ethiopia we are working with the government to relay COVID-19 education messages through 3,500 churches and mosques across the country. In Somalia, where we are the biggest health and nutrition provider, we are supporting the training of health workers.
In Sudan, we are using vehicles with loudspeakers to share vital advice around preventing the spread of the virus in remote communities. So far, we have distributed 5,000 masks to health facilities, built handwashing stations in refugee camps and supplied 1,200 litres of disinfectant to our local offices. We are also sending awareness messages via text message and have already reached 3.5 million people.
In North West Syria, we are working with partners to develop creative ways to ensure the children continue their education. This includes distributing mobile SIM cards so families have access to the internet and can access learning materials.
In Spain, we are offering therapy to children and families to support their emotional wellbeing, and we are working with parents and guardians to strengthen their positive parenting skills so they can care for their children during the crisis. We are also supporting struggling families with cash donations to buy food.
Dr Omnia conducts health screening in a religious school in Khartoum state, Sudan.
Photo: Mohammed Osman & Abubaker Garelnabei / Save the Children
What can you do to help?
You can help families get through this by contributing to our COVID-19 Crisis Appeal. We need your support to protect the most vulnerable children from the biggest health crisis we have ever seen.