Rwanda first confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in March 2020. Although the number of cases has been low, health system resources are being redirected to respond and an increasing number of children are affected by the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, including disruptions to schooling and heightened protection risks.
While Rwanda remained Ebola-free during the outbreak, it remains a priority country and continues to maintain its Ebola preparedness. Rwanda is also home to 147,000 refugees, half of whom are children, who require assistance in and outside of camps.1 In 2021, UNICEF will continue to deliver life-saving services to refugees and children and families affected by COVID-19 and its socio-economic impacts, and maintain its Ebola preparedness and contingency planning.
UNICEF is appealing for US$6 million to respond to the urgent needs of 1 million children, including with education, child protection and risk communication services.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
While the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda is small in scale and magnitude, it remains complex. The country is affected by three overlapping emergencies: (1) the risk that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will spillover into Rwanda; (2) the COVID-19 pandemic; and (3) the 147,000 refugees in Rwanda who require urgent humanitarian assistance.
Rwanda remains extremely vulnerable to health epidemics – including COVID-19 but also Ebola – due to its shared border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its overstreatched health system. Health centres with limited capacity will struggle to manage the surge in cases of COVID-19 and Ebola, should the outbreak spill over.
Rwanda confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 14 March 2020, and since then, the Government has implemented strict prevention measures. As of 30 October, there were over 5,000 confirmed cases and 35 confirmed deaths.6 COVID-19 prevention measures, such as the temporary closure of schools and early childhood development centres, supply disruptions, rising food prices, unemployment and the looming economic crisis, are intensifying risks and inequalities for the poorest and most vulnerable populations.
Children – including refugee children, young children, girls and children with disabilities – require access to education through remote learning and home-based early childhood development and stimulation while the Government works to gradually reopen schools and early childhood development centres.
Vulnerable families and children living in overcrowded settings and dense living conditions are at at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. Women and girls have specific needs that if unaddressed may increase their vulnerability to protection risks and lead to the adoption of negative coping strategies. Stigma and discrimination tied to COVID-19 are also heightening children's vulnerability to violence and psychological distress that may have long-term impacts on their cognitive and emotional development if appropriate action is not taken.