In April 2001, Nigeria hosted the African Union (AU) meeting with the Heads of States of member countries. These dignitaries pledged to commit at least 15% of their annual budgets to improve the health sector in their respective countries. Nineteen (19) years down the line, most of the AU countries have not met the benchmark as agreed. According to a study conducted by Lancet (a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal) in 2018, Nigeria’s health access and quality ranked 142nd out of 195 Countries. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) also confirmed that Nigeria had recorded the highest mortality rates of infant and under-five mortality in the world. At least 120 under-five children in Nigeria die for every 1000 live births.
Several reputable research organisations have associated Nigeria’s degrading health system to gross inadequate infrastructural support, poor electricity, limited potable water, and low per capita health spending.
Several health routine services have been disrupted due to the spread of the pandemic, and this has weakened the health system.
According to a recent UNICEF report, “Over 950 Nigerian children could die every day from preventable causes. Presently, households that have lost income due to the pandemic are likely to cut back on essential food and health products, making millions of children to miss out of important meals, which could eventually lead to malnutrition. These could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020.”
Vaccination of millions of infants occurs yearly, yet an estimated 14 million infants were still not reached by vaccination services in 2019, this number may rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new norm is applying pressure on pharmaceutical companies, manufacturer production capacities, supply availability, and logistics. Lockdown orders have paused routine immunisation campaigns around the world, leaving children vulnerable to the potential rebirth of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, chickenpox, and smallpox.
Restriction orders from the Government could also cause anxiety for the children, and if not properly managed may affect Children’s mental health. The government, parent, or guardian should not think children are uniquely resilient and able to bounce back from anything; they should remember a child is not a small adult!. Right now, children and adolescents are experiencing acute mental trauma especially as the pandemic continues alongside the following; violence, crime, civil unrest, terrorism in Northeast and North Central, job loss that’s drifting household to extreme poverty.
These youngsters require attention now than ever. Research shows that traumatic events in childhood can lead to harmful health effect over the life course. Children are the least equipped to process persistent anguish, especially one resulting from something dreadful and world-unstable anomaly as a public health emergency. The pandemic response should not address the transmission of the disease alone, but the health of our most promising future generation to avoid a devastating byproduct of distress and trauma.
Below are critical strategies required to mitigate the challenges and manage the situation:
Firstly, healthcare professionals and policymakers in Nigeria should prioritise protecting the vulnerable of the population, using realistic resources like reasonable budget allocation to health, deployment of professional practitioners etc. This is to tackle the strained health system because it is evident that the absolute level of support available concerning the health needs is well below what is desired.
Secondly, parents and caregivers have the primary responsibility to create a healthy, loving environment to mitigate anxiety and long-lasting effects. Children and adolescents need attention during this period, create extra time and care for them, speak kindly, and reassure them of your love, listen when they talk about their fears and concern and watch out for signs and symptoms of anxiety or traumatic stress. Parents or caregivers should also educate the young ones about COVID-19 while acknowledging their anxiety and how they are managing it. This boosts the Children’s confidence to protect themselves consciously.
- United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) (https://www.unicef.org/)
- World Health Organisation (WHO) (https://www.who.int/)
- The Lancet (https://www.thelancet.com/)