While the direct effects of COVID-19 have so far been overwhelmingly experienced by adults, we are yet to learn how this virus will affect vulnerable children in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) settings who often have underlying diseases such as malnutrition or tuberculosis, or are living with HIV. And while it seems children are less likely to be directly affected by COVID-19, they are certainly not spared from the indirect consequences of the virus.
There are multiple waves that we can anticipate for the COVID-19 pandemic – the first has centred around the direct impact of the disease on patients’ health. The waves to follow, however much they relate to indirect impacts, are particularly concerning for children, including restrictions on resources dedicated to non-COVID conditions; impact of school closures on education and mental health; interruption of care for chronic conditions and routine immunisation programs; and overarching psychological trauma linked to economic factors and social disconnection.
Working as a paediatrician in Sydney right now, I’ve noticed that healthcare activities have been quieter than usual for this time of the year. We know from our experience and what our patients tell us that there has been a degree of general hospital avoidance, in part due to social distancing measures, school closures, and general fear of being infected with the virus. We’ve had patients cancel hospital appointments fearful they might be exposed to COVID-19. I’ve also had family and friends tell me they don’t want to see me because, as a healthcare worker, I could be a source of COVID-19 for them.