Women and children in Pakistan require urgent support due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, an ongoing nutrition emergency and recurrent disasters. There are now 346,000 confirmed cases of COVID-191 and the global acute malnutrition rate is 18 per cent.2
In its response to COVID-19, UNICEF is prioritizing prevention and supporting health service continuity by empowering health workers with gender-responsive training and essential equipment. In addition, UNICEF is providing timely/accurate information; promoting behaviours that reduce risk and limit transmission; facilitating infection prevention and control; supporting learning continuity; providing psychosocial support; and working to prevent stigma.
UNICEF is also responding to the chronic nutrition emergency with curative and preventive life-saving services, including community management of acute malnutrition; maternal, infant and young child health; and infant and young child feeding services.
UNICEF requires US$55.7 million to provide a life-saving response in Pakistan, mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and ensure preparedness for recurring natural disasters.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
The first imported case of COVID-19 was reported in Pakistan on 25 February 2020. As of 10 November 2020, there are more than 346,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including over 319,000 patients who have recovered and been discharged and 7,000 deaths.7 Pakistan is now facing a second wave of COVID-19 cases. The test positivity rate has increased from 1.6 per cent on 1 October to 5.1 per cent as of 10 November. A public health response is needed to prevent disease transmission and ensure the continuity of basic services.
The Government has declared 20 cities/geographical locations (23 districts)8 with the highest number of cases to be COVID-19 hotpots. Due to lack of continuity of essential health services, the risk of additional morbidities and mortalities is significant, and women and children urgently need access to care.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure is urgently needed, as washing hands with soap – a key COVID-19 prevention measure – has increased the burden on water services. Without safe and effective WASH facilities/services in schools, health care facilities and communities, an estimated 550,000 children will be at risk of malnutrition and preventable diseases, including diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera and polio.9
The closure of nearly 197,000 educational facilities has severely disrupted the already weak education system and jeopardized the learning of millions of children in Pakistan.10 Before the pandemic, 22.8 million children were out of school in Pakistan.11
Pakistan is also seeing a rise in child protection risks in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including physical and emotional mistreatment, gender-based violence, psychosocial distress and mental health challenges. A recent study12 found that lack of educational opportunities was a common source of stress for caregivers, making children more vulnerable to violent discipline.
Pakistan is facing a chronic nutrition emergency. The national global acute malnutrition rate is nearly 18 per cent,13 exceeding the internationally agreed emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
If urgent action is not taken, this will lead to rising mortality rates among children under 5 years. A recent study estimates that child wasting could lead to an 18 per cent increase in young child mortality.Pakistan also suffers from recurrent natural shocks (earthquakes, floods, drought and epidemics) and strengthened preparedness is critical to support effective responses to future emergencies.