GENEVA — UNAIDS is calling on countries to adopt urgent measures to reinforce social protection programmes to shield the most vulnerable people from the health impact and socio-economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
People living with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are being significantly impacted by COVID-19. Modelling has estimated the potential catastrophic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic with increases of up to 10%, 20% and 36% projected deaths for HIV, TB and malaria patients, respectively, over the next five years.
Among the most vulnerable are women and girls, gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs and transgender people. Many of them are excluded from existing social protection programmes.
“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 socio-economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic will have the greatest impact on some of the most disadvantaged people in societies around the world. For example, COVID-19 threatens to double the number of people facing acute food insecurity to more than 265 million by the end of the year. Most of these people will be in countries already badly afflicted by conflict, economic or climate crises. Refugees are among the groups facing the greatest dangers.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world are also in line to lose their jobs in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Around 150 million full time jobs were lost in the first quarter of the year and millions more people are set to lose their livelihoods in the months ahead.
“Today, only 29% of the world’s population has access to adequate social protection coverage,” said Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization.”
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.”
Women are particularly vulnerable to the economic crisis being disproportionately employed in the informal sectors of the economy and therefore most likely to lose their incomes. They are also often employed on the frontline of the response to COVID-19, making up 70% of the workforce in the health and social care sectors, as well as carrying out the bulk of unpaid domestic duties in the home, childcare and other caring functions.
An increase in gender-based violence during lockdown also makes it imperative for governments to invest in social protection programmes designed specifically for the protection of women and girls.
A generation of young people are also at risk from the socio-economic crash caused by the pandemic. The vulnerability of children and young people is being further amplified by school closures which have affected more than 90% of the world’s student population, interrupting their education and their 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 UNICEF. “Before the outbreak, two out of three children had no or inadequate social protection fund.
Countries need to live up to their commitment for social protection for everyone who needs it.”
The call for action for governments to invest adequately in social protection programmes is endorsed by UNAIDS, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) and supported by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank.