Way out for children during pandemic

Tuesday August 25 2020



Photo by UNICEF/UNI330896/Frank Dejongh

Photo by UNICEF/UNI330896/Frank Dejongh 

By Janet Otieno-Prosper @JanetOtieno kikijanty@gmail.com

Tanzania just like any other country in the world has been touched by COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic openly showed the fragility of the society to this global shock.
Though all segments of the society are affected, children are more vulnerable to the health, social and economic impacts of this pandemic. Children witness parents who use to provide now struggling to provide the basic needs.
Disruption of their education and home quarantines has led to psychological distress and added to the negative effects on their emotional, social and physical well-being. So what should be done to invest for a better future and protection for children?              
Though there was no lockdown in Tanzania, many children found themselves with restricted movements or what became to be famously referred to us “home quarantines” imposed by their parents leading to psychological impacts like high level of stress, exposure to risky behavior, physical, sexual and verbal abuse.
 Others missed important clinical schedules or vaccinations while some had their education disrupted. Here are few suggestions on how to secure their future in case of any pandemic in future.

Mental health a priority
According to Dr Mariam Noorani, pediatrician and lactation consultant who heads the department of pediatrics at the Aga Khan Hospital Dar es Salaam, Children globally have experienced the negative effects of quarantine. Not being able to meet friends, not being able to go out and play and disruption of their regular routine of schooling can affect their wellbeing and mental health.
“Additionally, staying at home may have resulted in increased time on televisions, computers or phones; all of which impact their physical and mental health. It is important for caregivers to connect with their children, spend time with them, talk to them about what is going on globally and most important, make their children feel safe. Finding space and time for safe play and physical activity is also important.”
Dr Lucas Mwangata, Mental Health Physician from Sekou-Toure Regional Referral Hospital says children need to be prepared psychologically for for any change.
“Parents and the community in general need to play a role in preparing children mentally for any abrupt change in their life to enable a smooth transition. You can imagine they were going to school then suddenly they stopped ad infinitum,” he pointed out.
Mr Festo Kamalamo, a psychologist based in Mwanza says parents and guardians need to prepare their children for any eventuality by educating them so that even if something happens they are psychologically prepared.
Early childhood health
On young children who had missed vaccinations because their parents were scared to visit the hospitals at the peak of Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Miriam had this to say, “The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children should continue to get their routine vaccinations during the time of the pandemic while maintaining the necessary precautions. Missing vaccinations can result in outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles. For children who may have missed their vaccines, it is important to take them so that they can be given their missed shots and they can catch-up with the schedule.”
While allaying the fears of parents who are still afraid to take back their children to school even after the government announced reopening of all learning institutions, Dr Robert Sidhe, the Executive Director of Hawi Foundation,
Hawi Foundation is a medical humanitarian organization providing medical services across Africa is of the view that parents should just maintain children in school but should ensure they give children enough fruits like oranges and chewable Vitamin C tablets to boost their immunity.
Asked if there could be another surge of Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Sidhe had this to say. “Based on previous viral epidemiological patterns, there is likely another surge. However because of the previous exposure, it may not be so virulent. The surge would be very mild,” Dr Sidhe states.    


  Way forward in education
After the long break caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which led to closure of schools, Demetria Mahatane, a teacher at Grace Primary School in Kigamboni Dar es Salaam is of the opinion that a lot of unlearning took place because parents did not create enough time to revise previous assignments or do holiday assignment closely with their children.
“This is a wakeup call to parents to be part of their children’s education by cooperating with teachers and also to start taking keen interest in their children’s homework,” she stated.
Marisa Lucas, a parent of two children aged 7 and 9 respectively is of the view that water infrastructure in schools should be improved to encourage hand washing which will go a long way in preventing diseases.
“This is only possible with clean and safe water,”says Marisa who resides in Nyegezi, Mwanza.
Mr Nicholas Method and Mr Isaac Kassim both of Victoria Primary School in Malimbe, Mwanza suggested the need to improve and adopt online learning across the country.  This they said once online leaning is accessible throughout the country, learners and teachers would still connect even in the face of a pandemic like Covid-19 thus education will not be disrupted like it was.  
Secretary General of the Tanzania Private Schools Teachers Union (TPTU) Julius Mabula highlighted the need for basic education emergency response plan.
“The Ministry of Education, parents, teachers and all stakeholders have the responsibility of advocating for quality education based on the legal instruments that Tanzania is signatory to and intervention measures in case of emergency.”
He adds that education is critical for economic recovery and social development and children who stay out for long might not go back leading to wastage.
This is the third and last part of Women In News Siri Project

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