“Children and COVID-19”: Journalists in Dialog with Experts

Adolescence and Youth, Health

In 2021, Equity for Children hosted a series of webinars from Latin America entitled “Children and COVID-19”, which discussed the approximately 150 million children who were plunged into multidimensional poverty during the pandemic. The events were organized in partnership with The Arcor Foundation, The Institute of Collective Health of the University of Lanus, Argentina (ISCo/UNLa) and the Urban Health Project in Latin America (SALURBAL). 

Objectives:

  • To reflect on what experts are calling a “double pandemic”: one affecting children’s health and one increasing the spread of inequality
  • To influence the agenda of governments and social organizations in the region and to put children’s needs first 
  • To promote social protection programs and increase the expansion of social safety nets that are a lifeline for children in poor households.

The three webinars were attended by social service workers, academicians and policymakers. A video summary of the webinars, in Spanish with English subtitles, can be seen here

The three conversations highlighted “integral heath, children and the pandemic”:

#1 A future for Children: Health.” Reporter Eduardo Anguita talked with pediatrician and public health specialist Raul Mercer, and with pediatrician and researcher Ana Ortigoza (SALURBAL).

#2 “Child Nutrition During the Pandemic.” Journalist Silvia Bacher spoke with Patricia Aguirre, Ph.D in Anthropology, and Alberto Minujin, director of Equity for Children and professor at the New School University in New York. 

#3 “Epidemiology, Childhood After the Pandemic.” Journalist Silvia Fiore spoke with Hugo Spinelli (ISCo/ UNLa), a pediatrician specializing in public health, Naomar de Almeida, an epidemiologist and academic, and Javier Rodríguez, social investment coordinator at the Argentina Arcor Foundation.

Observations included:

  • Health is linked to living well, not the absence of disease
  • Health goes beyond healthcare systems such as hospitals and clinics. Health includes social, environmental, educational and financial factors in addition to solving acute medical problems.
  • Addressing health problems, as well as issues within the healthcare system, requires an interdisciplinary perspective and not just a medical approach
  • We speak of “the collective health” because health is representative of a collection of individuals as well as community living standards

Policy approaches to health must emphasize consumption habits, practices and social customs, along with considering the economic and social environments in which children and their families live. 

“People tend to think of childhood as a point that marks the course of the future but childhood is the answer to society today”.  Raul Mercer 

The speakers reflected on urban characteristics that constitute a social environment, which is fundamental to understanding inequalities in children’s and adolescents’ health. Within Latin American cities, housing deficits, population density, environmental degradation, lack of green spaces and limitations of public transportation are all factors that directly affect the ability to work or attend school. Lockdowns during the pandemic resulted in no circulation and little social interaction. These circumstances produced health issues that are still affecting children’s mental and physical health. Fair and inclusive societies, free from discrimination, achieve better public health. 

“We eat like we live and we get sick like we eat”. Patricia Aguirre

Patricia Aguirre elaborated on issues related to eating habits and changes in caloric intake during the pandemic. Latin American households increased their consumption of flour, sugar, fat and alcohol. Staying at home produced at-home cooking and increased food preparations. Cooking became a comforting recreational activity as well as a means of eating. Cooking had a renaissance during the pandemic and countered a years-long trend of grabbing food outside the home and “on the go”.  

“Since COVID began, deaths have been counted as statistics. But numbers do not tell the full story. As humans, values add important meaning to our actions. Our narratives must collect and raise every voice, including that of all our children.” 

At one point in our lives, we were all young children. Why, then, asked the discussants, is society focused solely on solving problems for adults? During the pandemic, children were deprived of schooling and the chance to interact with friends on playgrounds and in parks. By necessity, many stepped up to care for younger siblings and help with home chores instead of attending to their own schooling or play. 

Children are frequently invisible in our society. Webinar participants emphasized the importance of actively listening to what children and adolescents have to say, and of adding their perspectives and experiences to the conversation. This practice should be taken into account, emphasized and implemented by families, institutions and policymakers.

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