Coronavirus: COVID-19 pandemic has reversed 20 years of poverty reduction - World Vision

The COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of children at risk of disease and famine, as well as being forced into work and early marriage, according to a new report.

Aid agency and World Vision says the number of children dying from preventable causes has halved since 1990 but that could soon reverse, thanks to the worldwide economic hit and lockdowns the virus has triggered. 

"With social restrictions hindering health services, millions of children have not been vaccinated against other diseases and 20 years of hard-won development gains are at risk," World Vision international partnerships director TJ Grant told Newshub. 

"More than 5 million children under five are facing threats of diarrhea and illness, and [the pandemic] also could wipe out 20 years of progress in tackling issues like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria."

The number of people in extreme poverty has increased for the first time in two decades - about 150 million more in the past year, according to both World Vision and the World Bank - half of them children.

There was a 60 percent rise last year in the number of people getting help in the form of cash and assistance from World Vision alone - its response to COVID-19 the biggest campaign in the organisation's history.

"A big part of the issue is the economic impact and the ability to work. A lot of people have lost their jobs, lost the ability to be working... also around healthcare because of movement and social restrictions, because of the need to focus - obviously, understandably - on COVID-19," said Grant.

"A big issue is just the ability for people to have access to basic necessities. In a lot of the areas where we work - refugee camps, conflict areas, where people have been internally displaced - they're relying on food assistance and shelter and things that World Vision and other organisations provide just to survive."

Unlike in New Zealand, in many parts of the world COVID-19 isn't the only disease posing a clear and present danger.

"The World Health Organization estimates that a child born today, to be fully vaccinated... by the time they reach the age of five, there's only a 20 percent likelihood that's going to happen." 

Outcomes for pregnant mothers are also being pushed to the side, he said, and the impacts on poor societies will be long-lasting even if they haven't been hit hard by the virus itself. 

"Another really dark concern is 10 million more girls could be forced into early marriage, and millions more children are already out of school without the type of access that we have here in New Zealand to [use] remote and virtual learning... children are out of school, families are trying to provide but don't have the resources - so that's where you get these secondary risks of children being forced to work for labour, or even girls being pushed into early marriage to help support their families." 

Despite Kiwis also being hit in the pocket with last year's extended lockdown, Grant says last year's appeal for donations was a huge success.

"We had a tremendous response, we were really encouraged... When people understand the need and have a sense there can be something done to address this, they are willing to step up." 

Andrew Morley, president and CEO of World Vision International, said the international community had to step up and do more to ease the burden.

"We call on governments, individuals, and corporations to prioritise children and urgently respond to the devastation this pandemic has already caused."