UNICEF Adolescent Health Specialist Dr Joanna Lai


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Some 44 million children went hungry globally over the pandemic period in 2020 while 370 million students missed out on getting a balanced meal.

This was revealed by Dr Joanna Lai, health specialist, maternal, newborn, adolescent health unit, UNICEF Headquarters.

Speaking at a panel discussion titled Schooling in the Caribbean during COVID-19, Lai said the pandemic has taken a toll on children and adolescents.

She said 463 million children worldwide could not access the internet or participate in remote learning. Of this figure, 13 million children lived in Latin American and the Caribbean.

Overall, Dr Lai said 30 per cent of children globally could not access remote learning compared to nine per cent from the Caribbean and Latin America.

She explained that even before COVID-19, there were risks to mental health.

“Anxiety disorder is the fourth leading cause of disability in 19-year-olds. Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death in 19-year-olds and Latin America and the Caribbean, it is the third leading cause.

She also added that since the start of the pandemic 140 million children under the poverty line while 44 million went hungry in 2020.

“The risk of violence has increased and along with the risk of child abuse. There are lots of milestones they look forward to which they miss out on. Helplessness, shock, fear, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, depression are feelings described by children,” she said.

Professor Joel Warrican said COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities in the education system. He noted that special needs children have also been affected.

“Our training has been in hardware and software but we have not spent enough time concentrating on how to teach, how to get through to our students. As a result, we have people who have devices and have internet access, go on and listen to teachers but it is boring,” Warrican complained.

He noted that obesity was rising and many children had developed many psycho-social issues.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the UWI Task Force Professor Clive Landris said focus must be placed on managing the safe reopening of schools. He noted that in Barbados all teachers were vaccinated while other countries have examined the possibility of transporting all students in schools.

Student Jessica Russel said while some students have adapted because of teacher dedication and parental support, other students who have internet and devices have become frustrated. With the disconnect between teachers and students, many students have been tempted to cheat to maintain good grades.

She said other students with no devices and internet may decide to drop off because they feel the educational system has nothing to offer. Russel added that other students have simply given up on school because they cannot attend classes without having a device or internet.