The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a profound impact on the well-being of children in Kyrgyzstan.1 With disruptions to education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), nutrition and health – including vaccination – services, and the rise in violence, poverty and stress, children are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
As the United Nations organization leading the coordination of international assistance in education, WASH and protection, UNICEF has been at the forefront of supporting the Government’s response to the pandemic. UNICEF’s COVID-19 strategy focuses on mitigating the immediate and long-term impacts on women and children, particularly the most disadvantaged; supporting the restoration of quality health, nutrition and education services; protecting children and women from violence; providing immediate social protection for impoverished families; and engaging communities in the response.
UNICEF requires US$15 million to meet critical needs and effectively contribute to government and inter-agency COVID-19 response efforts.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
Following reports of the first COVID-19 cases in Kyrgyzstan in March 2020, the Government declared a national emergency. After the state of emergency was lifted in May, Kyrgyzstan saw a dramatic surge in new cases in June, which peaked at nearly 1,300 daily cases in July10 – one of the highest per capita ratios globally. This situation has stretched health system capacities, which were unable to cope with the massive number of people seeking testing and treatment. In July, 25 per cent of confirmed cases were among health workers9 due to weak infection prevention and control. As of September, there were over 45,000 cumulative cases registered in Kyrgyzstan.8
Beyond the immediate health impacts, the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic are significant. Kyrgyzstan's gross domestic product is expected to decline by 10 per cent.11
The World Bank estimates that the poverty rate could increase to 44 per cent – up from 20.1 per cent in 2019 – due to sharp declines in remittances, falling incomes, growing unemployment, rising prices and increased health expenditures.12 UNICEF and the World Bank estimate that poverty among children could rise to 55 per cent,13 which would have a severe impact on the nutrition, health and development prospects of future generations.
School closures have affected 1.6 million children – the total population of school-aged children in Kyrgyzstan.7
The majority of children will continue their learning remotely when the 2020/21 school year begins due to lack of adequate WASH facilities and safety measures in schools. This has raised concerns about the quality of education and the mental health of students. More than 60 per cent of adolescents are experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the pandemic.14
Some 20,000 children under 2 years are at risk of missing out on essential vaccines.15 Children and adolescent girls are at increased risk of malnutrition due to deteriorating dietary intake, anaemia and micro-nutrient deficiencies.
During the lockdown, 10,000 children living in residential institutions returned to their families and now require individual case assessments. These families need support to keep their children at home and avoid re-institutionalization.6
The divide between rich and poor is increasing, and high unemployment and school closures have left children vulnerable to child labour, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.
Children of migrant parents are affected by declines in remittances. Cases of gender-based violence/domestic violence increased by 65 per cent in the first quarter of 2020.16