COVID-19: UN urges ramping up social protection

COVID-19 is posing potential catastrophic impacts on people living with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) , with projected deaths to increase up to 10, 20 and 36 per cent for HIV, TB and malaria patients, respectively, over the next five years, according to UNAIDS, the UN agency dedicated to tackling the virus.


“Countries must ensure that everyone is able to receive essential services, including health care, and they must invest adequately in social protection programmes to keep people safe and to shield them from the consequences of losing their livelihoods,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

The most impacted

The highly disadvantaged will be most gravely impacted, particularly those in countries already afflicted by conflict, economic or climate crises. 

And refugees are among the groups facing the greatest dangers. 

At the same time, some 150 million full-time jobs were lost in the first quarter of the year and millions of other people are set to lose their livelihoods in the months ahead.

“Today, only 29 per cent of the world’s population has access to adequate social protection coverage,” said Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

“Governments must act to ensure the sustainability of livelihoods, businesses and jobs and the protection of workers’ health, rights and incomes during and after COVID-19”.

A case for women

Women are particularly vulnerable to the economic crisis. 

Disproportionately employed in the informal sectors, they are most likely to lose their incomes. 

Comprising 70 per cent of the health and social care workforce, they are also often employed on the frontline of the COVID-19 response.

Furthermore, women carry out the bulk of unpaid domestic duties in the home, childcare and other caring functions.

And with the lockdown triggering and increase in gender-based violence, it is imperative for Governments to invest in social protection programmes designed specifically for women and girls, UNAIDS said.

Countries need to live up to their commitment for social protection for everyone who needs it — UNICEF chief

Youth in crosshairs

School closures, which have affected more than 90 per cent of the world’s student population, have not only interrupted education but also pupils’ access to crucial social services, such as school meals.

“Children and young people are suffering disproportionately from the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. 

“Before the outbreak, two-out-of-three children had no or inadequate social protection fund.” 

Moreover, the socio-economic crash caused by the pandemic is placing an entire generation of young people at risk. 

“Countries need to live up to their commitment for social protection for everyone who needs it,” she added.

Call for action

The call for Governments to invest adequately in social protection programmes is endorsed by UNAIDS, UNICEF and the International Labour Organization (ILO) and supported by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the  UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank.



Student-members of the Health Brigade outside the latrines of Dikolelayi Primary School in Kananga, Kasai-Occidental province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)


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