- The Love Beyond Borders campaign has been calling for an equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
- Children are suffering from the losses of parents and caregivers, years of schooling and basic nutrition, and they face growing poverty.
- Even when the pandemic ends, its consequences will continue for decades, especially among the most vulnerable children.
The pandemic is fading from America’s attention, replaced by more immediate concerns with inflation, the war in Ukraine and never-ending political battles. The idea that the pandemic is practically over is a tragedy in itself, and the children of the world will pay the price for many years to come.
The Love Beyond Borders campaign, in partnership with UNICEF-USA, has been campaigning for the COVAX vaccine rollout for over a year so that the poorest countries will have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Many United Methodist churches, along with other faith groups, have given generously to this campaign. However, the battle is far from over. To understand why, we only need to look at what has happened to children everywhere.
In April, Love Beyond Borders convened an online expert panel to discuss how the pandemic is impacting children and how the church can respond. Panel members included physicians, relief directors, pastors and mental health experts from Christian organizations in such places as the Philippines, Nepal, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The message was clear: Many children, especially in poor countries, have lost parents, lost years of education, fallen into poverty, lack proper nutrition and generally have lost the basic resources needed for healthy development.
This broad loss of key resources has further life-changing consequences. For example, as young girls lose access to education and families fall back into poverty, early child marriage is once again on the rise. On our panel, World Relief referenced a UNICEF report that estimates we will see an additional 10 million early marriages due to a lack of opportunity for girls caused by Covid.
As extreme poverty rises, reversing two decades of progress, stunted child growth is on the rise. As children lose parents, the number of orphans is on the rise. A study by The Lancet estimates 5.2 million children have lost a primary or secondary caregiver.
As the response to the pandemic takes up health resources, other diseases go either untreated or not vaccinated against. UNICEF estimates an additional 60 million children will suffer from combined increases in preventable disease, such as wasting disease, maternal mortality and other preventable causes such as measles and polio. All of these changes are due to the pandemic and represent the broad loss of key resources children and families need to survive and thrive.
Some people question how so many problems can be blamed on the pandemic. The answer is in using a standard public health method that looks at the number of cases beyond what would normally occur. This was used in a recently reported analysis by the World Health Organization that found the global mortality from the pandemic was five times the official rate when all the secondary impacts were included. The same method can tell us about the amount of poverty, malnutrition, abuse, mental illness and more that is due to the pandemic.
The key message here is that even when the pandemic ends, its consequences will continue for decades, especially among the most vulnerable children. The sooner we vaccinate everyone the sooner we will protect more children from harm. We must increase our effort to vaccinate everyone and at the same time recognize that the battle for vaccination is not the end of the war against the consequences of COVID-19.
The church can and must continue to engage in this struggle. Resources – including economic ones – must be rebuilt. In some areas, churches are working together to support local entrepreneurs, support education and bolster health systems. In Nepal, churches are forming partnerships with health systems to help encourage vaccination. In Cameroon, churches are working to end early marriage. In the Philippines, churches have stepped in to aid in food distribution. Where people do not trust government health services, churches can act as intermediaries to build bridges of trust.
A particularly important area for churches to engage is in countering disinformation that causes people to not get the vaccine or other healthcare. For example, in one community, a small group of faith leaders was teaching that the pandemic was God’s will and therefore if we are vaccinated, we are working against God. Another group of faith leaders joined together to openly and quickly counter this message. They taught that the pandemic was not created by God, but came about when extreme poverty forced people to live in close proximity to animals, creating a path for the virus to move from animals to people. Thus, the pandemic is the fruit of man’s injustice. Faith leaders acting quickly with a clear message countered the dangerous misinformation that was starting to spread.
As one panelist said, this is the “long work” against the pandemic. The work comes down to the three strategies of Love Beyond Borders: Communicate the message that people are still suffering, children will need our help for many years to come, and therefore work is still needed.
Advocate for support for those in need, for COVAX and for sharing vaccines. Speak to your representatives, your children and your neighbors. Get involved locally with agencies helping children and feeding the hungry. And donate to those working to restore those who are most vulnerable.
Boan is a member and missions team leader at Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise, Idado.
News contact: Joey Butler or Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday (weekly) Digests
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