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‘Hidden pandemic’: Peruvian children in crisis as carers die | Global development

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When Covid-19 began shutting down Nilda López’s vital organs, doctors decided that the best chance of saving her and her unborn baby was to put her into a coma.

Six months pregnant, López feared she would not wake up, or that if she did, her baby would not be there.

Her partner had already died of the virus, and doctors predicted that López would too.

But whether due to the expertise of the intensive-care unit’s medical team, López’s will to cling to life for her children – or, as she sees it, divine intervention – doctors were able to save the mother and the baby, María Belén, who was three months premature, with an emergency caesarean.

“It really is a miracle of God,” says López, who lives in a settlement of ramshackle wooden and concrete-block houses in the dusty mountains skirting the northern edge of Lima. “Maybe he didn’t want me to die for my kids, so I could continue fighting for them. They are the ones that really need me.”

The scars remain for López. She has not yet processed the loss of her partner and has to provide for her three children – including 12-year-old twins from a previous marriage – while Covid-19 has impaired her ability to walk.

María Belén, now six months old, is one of an estimated 99,000 children in Peru and 1.6 million globally who have lost a caregiver to Covid-19, according to a study published in the Lancet in July.

Covid-19 orphanhood is a “hidden pandemic”, say researchers. Obscured by the more visible tumult of the pandemic, it is damaging the mental and physical health and economic future of the next generation.

Peru faces a particularly severe crisis. High levels of informal labour, intergenerational housing and poverty have made it fertile ground for the coronavirus. It has recorded 197,000 Covid-19 deaths – the highest number in the world per capita.

Newborn babies whose mothers are infected with coronavirus, at the National Perinatal and Maternal Institute.
Newborn babies, whose mothers are infected with coronavirus, at the National Perinatal and Maternal Institute. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

By the end of April this year, almost 93,000 Peruvian children – more than one in 100 – had lost a parent, according to the Lancet study.

Experts believe the impact of the pandemic on children has been overlooked as they are usually less badly affected than adults by the illness itself, even though more than 1,000 Peruvian children have died from Covid-19.

Yuri Cutipé, executive director of mental health at Peru’s ministry of health, says: “If we add the loss of a parent or caregiver to the mental health impact of the pandemic in the context of weakening family and community networks and economic shortcomings, mental health throughout the life of this population is likely to be marked by various breakdowns and some complex difficulties.”

Lengthy lockdowns have caused a sharp increase in domestic violence as well as anxiety and depression in children. A third of children in Lima “show a high burden of mental health risk”, according to a study by Peru’s health ministry and Unicef.

Roxana Pingo, coordinator of Save the Children Peru’s (SCP) Covid response programme, says: “Even before you take into account that more than 1,000 children have died from Covid-19 in Peru, they have been extremely affected by depression and anxiety.”

Latin America and the Caribbean had the largest number of children missing school in the world, according to Unicef’s estimates in March. The educational hiatus is accentuating existing chasms in inequality and setting back life prospects for a generation, the UN agency says.

Children raise their phones to try to get a mobile signal during virtual classes in the Puente Piedra shantytown outside Lima.
Children try to get a mobile signal during virtual classes in the Puente Piedra shantytown outside Lima. Latin America and the Caribbean have the world’s highest number of children missing lessons. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP

The pandemic has plunged families who have lost a breadwinner into deeper poverty. López’s partner, a taxi driver, brought in the main wage and she cannot continue her job cleaning at a local college due to her difficulties walking. “We don’t know what to do,” she says. “I don’t see any economic opportunities.”

So many Peruvian families have lost a caregiver that the government approved an “orphan pension” in March. It pays caregivers of children who have lost one or both parents 200 Peruvian soles (£35) a month until the child is 18 years old. “It’s a lifeline,” says López.

But the delivery of pension payments has been slow. For now, López is relying solely on the goodwill of strangers and donations from SCP for food, milk and nappies.

It could take up to six months for a child who has lost a parent to start receiving payments and longer for those who have lost both parents, says Pingo. There are also insufficient funds to cover the programme, so children under five are prioritised.

The sluggish, fragmented response is typical of Peru, says Nelly Claux, SCP’s director of programme impact. The country became a model for child rights in Latin America during the 1990s, thanks to its progressive legislation. But the government often struggles to bring ideas conceived in Lima into reality in the sprawling slums on its periphery or the towns and villages dotted across the Andes.

“We have no lack of legal framework. It’s world-leading,” Claux says. “What we don’t have is cooperation, officials who know what they are doing, and funds.”

An official at a Child Defence Centre (Defensoría Municipal del Niño y el Adolescente or Demuna) told López that many parents and caregivers did not know that they were entitled to the pension. Demuna, a state-funded office that supports children’s rights at a local level, has been distributing flyers at its centres, posting notices on Facebook and going from door to door to raise awareness.

By the end of July, more than 11,000 families were receiving the payment, according to Peru’s ministry for women.

The government estimates that 35,000 children are eligible, which is below the Lancet study’s findings of 99,000. Terre des Hommes, a child development agency, puts that number at 70,000.

People queue at a soup kitchen in Comas, on Lima’s outskirts.
People queue at a soup kitchen in Comas, near Lima. So many families have lost caregivers that Peru has introduced an ‘orphan pension’. Photograph: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty

Children who lose a caregiver are more likely to be institutionalised in an orphanage or care home, and experience broader short- and long-term adverse effects on their health, safety and wellbeing, say experts.

Girls become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and boys to illegal mine work. “The Peruvian response must be comprehensive, protecting against damage to mental health, education, exploitation and crime,” says Pingo.

“We know that they are out there and that the quicker we get to them, the more we can help. But we just don’t know where they are. We’ve got to find them.”

Early intervention minimises the impact. But first, they have to find the children. All the while, the list keeps growing. In the week to 10 August, more than 500 Covid deaths were recorded, meaning hundreds more children have likely lost a parent or caregiver.

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Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International

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The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.

The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.

Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).

As we approach a year since the end of the Transition Period, we really want to hear from you about the key issues…

Posted by Brits in Spain on Friday, September 17, 2021

The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.

Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.



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‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development

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The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.

It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.

Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.

Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.

“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”

Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”

The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).

“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”

About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.

Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”

Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.

A dam affected by drought in Kandahar.
A dried up dam in Kandahar. A majority of Afghans are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought, as they live in rural areas. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.

According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.

“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”

Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.

Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”

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[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

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Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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