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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): UNICEF support to the Middle East and North Africa (April 2020)

Situation Report
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Situation in Numbers

19 out of 20 countries in the MENA region reported laboratory-confirmed cases

67,542 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,848 associated deaths in the MENA region

40.4 million people reached by UNICEF

70.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in MENA

110 million school-aged students out of school due to closure of education facilities

Situation Overview

As of 4 April 2020, 19 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have registered 67,542 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (and 3,848 associated deaths).

The Islamic Republic of Iran has recorded more than 55,000 cases, becoming the country with the 7th highest number of cases globally and the country with the highest number of cases in the MENA region with 82 per cent of the total number of cases and 90 per cent of associated deaths). The situation in Iran is of critical concern, with more than 2,000 cases per day (on average). In the rest of the region, the number of cases doubled over the past week. Five countries in the region are recording Case Fatality Rates (CFR) above six per centi .

The pandemic has mobilized and harnessed the capacities of governments, the private sector and civil society across the region to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. All countries in the MENA region have implemented containment measures and for most of them, have enforced curfew and closure of services and businesses. In addition to the health impact of COVID-19 and of the public health measures, a broad range of socio-economic and psycho-social impacts are already visible in the region, which are hitting the most vulnerable children the hardest.
Availability of basic social services has sharply declined, and children are heavily impacted.

In the health sector, the prioritization of COVID-19 related activities, led in many countries to contractions or postponement of key initiatives in the domain of child and maternal health, in nutrition, immunization, mental health, and preventive health. Immunization campaigns across the region have been the most severely impacted, putting children at risk of childhood diseases.

As part of the initial containment measure, all countries in MENA closed their education institutions including schools, affecting more than 100 million children on top of the 15 million children that were out of school prior to the pandemic. Several governments are setting up distance learning alternatives and making curriculum available on-line or through tv or radio. However, many students in several countries, notably the most vulnerable, risk to be excluded, due to the lack of access to internet or weak internet infrastructure or the absence of assets for distance learning, and parental support.

Closure of most businesses, suspension of salaries, lockdowns and curfews are putting further financial pressure on livelihoods and socioeconomic fragile fabrics of the most vulnerable children and their families, as well as on the medium-term prospects for macro-economic stability. The COVID-19 and its economic fallout is expected to significantly strain existing social protection systems in MENA. The delivery of most social services is affected in a period when a risk exists of exacerbation of violence against children and gender-based violence. These negative impacts are magnified for the most vulnerable children, including migrants, refugees, children living in institutions, children with disabilities and children living in conflict affected areas. The gender dimension is at the centre of the COVID-19-induced crisis, with women and girls especially vulnerable to violence and exclusion.

Initial assessments made by UNESCWA estimated marked negative impacts on employment (the loss of 1.7 million jobs) and the overall growth in the region, which are expected to be translated into an increase in poverty by an additional 8 million people, and by 1.9 million undernourished people. Children, over-represented among the population falling into poverty, are at risk for falling into the negative consequences of coping strategies that households may adopt, which may have long term impact on their development (child labour, early marriage and dropping out of school).