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COVID-19 and children: How a global pandemic is changing the lives of children in Albania & Kosovo

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On 12 December 2019, a case of pneumonia of unknown aetiology was detected in China. On 31 December 2019, the outbreak of this new disease was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2020a). The novel coronavirus has thus been named 'severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2' (SARS-CoV-2), while coronavirus disease associated with it is now referred to as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (WHO, 2020b). On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) escalated the COVID-19 outbreak from a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' to a pandemic. The WHO Director-General explained he was "deeply concerned by both the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction." (WHO, 2020c).

The disease was confirmed to have reached Albania on March 8 2020 (WHO, 2020d) and Kosovo on March 13 2020 (Ministry of Health, 2020) when the first case respectively was confirmed. The virus, known to its very fast spread ability, forced governments to take drastic measures in order to contain it. Lockdown measures were imposed and the lives of girls and boys, families and communities in Albania & Kosovo changed drastically as health systems buckled, borders closed, and schools and businesses shuttered under the pressure of the crisis of COVID 19. The most vulnerable families and their children was hardest hit in such crises. Due to pandemic suffering of those living in fragile contexts already facing difficulties from economic distress, conflict, instability or natural disaster and great injustices has further increased.

In Albania the unemployment rates are expected to rise again and poor labour market conditions might be exacerbated, given that a notable share of the workforce lives abroad. Children in Albania are in a particular vulnerable situation since they experienced the 2nd school closure in this academic year, as schools were also closed after the earthquake that hit the county in November 2019 (MARS, 2020). The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has recently declared that around 10,000 children in Albania have missed education (Save the Children, 2020). Kosovo has one of the highest poverty levels in South Eastern Europe, with 20.7% child poverty rate. The impacts of COVID-19 on poverty are likely to be substantial, as economic activity in Kosovo has been brought to a standstill and remittances plummeted. A significant number of people are likely to lose their jobs, especially those on fixed-term contracts, seasonal workers, and those working in the informal economy (Save the Children, 2020).

World Vision in Albania & Kosovo (WVA&K) responded to COVID-19 and supported communities. World Vision is committed to listening to girls and boys, include them in decision-making processes and empower them to contribute to change in public decision-making. As part of this mandate, a consultation with girls and boys was conducted in Albania & Kosovo. In this consultation 10 girls and 10 boys were interviewed and shared their views and experiences of the outbreak of COVID-19. Additionally, 515 girls and boys were surveyed to understand the impact of the pandemic on their lives. Participants shared the ways in which the pandemic and the subsequent measures put in place to quell the spread of the virus, have exposed them to multiple stressors and have affected their daily life, their education, their psycho-social well-being and put them at greater risk of experiencing and witnessing violence and abuse in their families and in their communities. Girls and boys, however, are not passive victims of the pandemic and its aftermath. In this consultation participants also shared the ways in which they are facing the often-difficult changes to their daily lives and working towards contributing to stop the spread of the virus in a variety of creative and innovative ways.