The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly impacted health, security and overall economic development in Sierra Leone. Coupled with weak preparedness for future disasters, the country faces a perilous future with children at significant risk for nutritional deprivations, including severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and women and girls at increased risk of gender-based violence.
UNICEF will enable the continuity of health, nutrition and protection services for children and women, including access to life-saving medicines and psychosocial support; increase access to clean water and sanitation and effective infection prevention and control measures in health facilities, schools and communities; and prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable children, women and men, including people with disabilities.
UNICEF is requesting US$12.7 million to strengthen health and social protection systems and ensure the provision of services to save lives and protect the welfare and dignity of all persons.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
COVID-19 continues to threaten the safety and well-being of people in Sierra Leone, with young people bearing the brunt of the social, economic and development breakdown. While the Government of Sierra Leone has actively prepared for and responded to the crisis, the pandemic remains a serious threat due to the weak public systems, struggling economy and ongoing recovery from the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak.
As many as 1.8 million people (23 per cent of the population) are at risk of contracting the virus.5 The disruption of essential services due to COVID-19 has the potential to leave 210,000 children without oral antibiotics for pneumonia, 271,000 children without diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccinations and 49,000 women without access to facility-based deliveries.6 Rising food insecurity since the beginning of the outbreak has worsened the nutritional situation in Sierra Leone; and 1.9 million people are affected by limited access to health and nutrition services.7 The disruption of essential services could raise the already high child mortality rate by 30 per cent over the next year.
In addition, some 3.2 million children are at risk of dropping out of school9 following months of school closures. Even as schools reopen, students are faced with the challenge of catching up and the pressure to pursue child labour to financially support their families.9 Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in March 2020, rates of gender-based violence and other forms of abuse of women and girls has increased.10 Lack of safe water and inadequate infection prevention and control in institutions and communities will fuel the spread of the virus and lead to unnecessary deaths and disabilities, with far reaching consequences for communities. The number of people living in extreme poverty – currently 800,000 people or 160,000 households11 – is expected to increase due to restrictions on movement, limited access to markets and lack of livelihood opportunities.
Sierra Leone currently ranks 181 out of 189 countries and territories on the Human Development Index. The country also faces annual outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as cholera and Lassa fever, as well as frequent floods and landslides. These combined risks seriously limit social and economic growth opportunities and the advancement of the health, security and well-being of children, women and men.