Leaving no one behind during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life in every corner of the globe, creating a crisis that is unprecedented in its scale and scope. A growing body of evidence shows that both the virus itself, as well as the measures implemented by governments to contain its spread, disproportionately impact children with disabilities and their families.

Some underlying health conditions place children with disabilities at higher risk for becoming infected with and developing severe illness as a result of COVID-19.  Additionally, children with disabilities, especially those with difficulties in the domains of hearing, seeing and cognitive functioning, also face important barriers in the access to inclusive public health information and communication strategies that are crucial as preventative measures during pandemic periods. Access to essential health services and WASH facilities are also important factors, not only because many children living with disabilities live in poverty contexts but also due to the intrinsic barriers in accessing these services and the limited capacities of health systems to deliver inclusive health care services. There are also widespread concerns about the effect of social isolation or social distancing on child wellbeing, including increased anxiety, depression, stress, and concern about exacerbation or relapse of pre-existing mental health issues. Quarantine constrains and overall burden faced by families might also place children with disabilities at increased risk for discrimination and of being exposed to violent discipline methods in the household.

The greater burden faced by children living with disabilities means that additional efforts will be required to ensure their needs are being met when transitioning to the different pandemic phases. Programmatic actions will need to address these specific challenges during the pandemic and post-pandemic period along differentiated, inclusive policy responses.

Note: For details on definitions, methods and data sources, please see Seen, Counted, Included: Using data to shed light on the well-being of children with disabilities report.


What UNICEF is doing

The barriers and exacerbated burden experienced by children living with disabilities can be reduced if key stakeholders take appropriate action. UNICEF has traditionally been in a privileged position to deliver prompt response in terms of data and evidence to guide programmatic approaches that can address needs of children during emergency and contingency situations.

Generating disability inclusive evidence will help countries to be better equipped when transitioning into the post-pandemic period and to inform differentiated policy responses for children living with disabilities. Now more than ever, a focus on disability measurement should be harnessed as to contribute to the reformulation of data collection methodologies to ensure that newly collected information on the burden and impacts of COVID-19 does not leave children living with disabilities behind.