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8 April 2021 - Story

COVID19: after a year of great challenges and learning

By Ariel Habed Save the Children Regional Program Operations Advisor

On April 7, 2020, on World Health Day, we found ourselves under an unprecedented health emergency in recent decades. COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the WHO director a few days earlier. A year later, we can notice the great challenges that the pandemic has brought in all aspects of life and all sectors of society.

The pandemic exacerbated existing problems in the world and in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a region characterized by high levels of inequality, violence and food insecurity. Countries with economies in crisis and fragile health systems, which were already facing complex humanitarian situations such as Venezuela or the Northern Triangle of Central America, suffered an increase of extreme poverty, hunger and migration. On top of this already complex situation were the humanitarian crises associated with the hit of hurricanes Eta and Iota, which severely affected Central American and Caribbean countries, further exacerbating the impact of the pandemic.

These crises, especially COVID-19, have disproportionately affected women and children, raising levels of sexual and gender-based violence, increasing unemployment and informal work, especially among women, and reducing the opportunity for quality education, especially among the most vulnerable girls. According to a UNICEF report, about 60% of school-age children in the region missed the school year in 2020 and school closings still persist in most countries in the first quarter of 2021.

Despite the impact and challenges, the journey throughout the pandemic has also led to achievements and has enabled many learnings.

To cope with the pandemic, Save the Children developed a global strategy built with regional and national adaptation. The strategy allowed the adaptation of existing programs and interventions implementation that included programmatic features focused on health, nutrition and hygiene, education, child protection, prevention of gender-based violence, as well as cross-cutting actions including risk communication, community participation and advocacy.

Save the Children was able to adapt its programs and provide a COVID-19 response in 11 countries in the region. More than 1.5 million children and women in the most vulnerable areas were benefited. Although resources were insufficient regarding existing needs, innovative elements and programmatic adaptations emerged and included further comprehensive approaches across sectors. These valuable experiences were developed and shared by Save the Children country teams. For example, nutritional counselling took place via WhatsApp and video calls which also addressed actions to protect and prevent violence. An educational podcast was created and solar radios were used in areas with difficult access to telephone and internet services in order to maintain distance learning for children. Digital media were implemented towards monetary transfers to displaced families. Food rations delivery services were carried out while respecting all biosafety protocols and including community participation. Through the support of civil society organizations, the “Steps to Protect” and “Positive Discipline” methodologies were adapted through digital technologies. Furthermore, we reshaped safe spaces and migrants shelters and, through communication and advocacy campaigns, promoted a safe back to school. These achievements would not have been possible without the collaborative work of a great team that has managed to adjust to the new context.

After a year, the pandemic goes on, challenges persist, and much work remains to be done in all fields. Faced with COVID-19, we must advocate for an equitable distribution of vaccination, as well as for greater access to preventive health services which has decreased. In addition, we must stand up for education continuity including a safe return to schools and pursue actions in order to mitigate the pandemic impact on other sectors.