Pandemic Plan: Make Children A Priority — Kanmani Batumalai

Our weak child care system has a greater risk to increase the prevalence of infections at a much larger scale.

Approximately 25 per cent of Malaysians are children. Eight per cent of them are under 5 years old. Children are a significant group of people, vulnerable to Covid-19.

While we are busy planning and executing measures to flatten the Covid-19 curve, it is also essential to address the challenges that will arise in our childcare system once the MCO (Movement Control Order) ends.

The aftermath effects of subsequent waves of this virus on children is yet to be determined. Thus, preventive intervention measures focusing on children must be strengthened in parallel with other action plans.

Children who receive child care services outside the home generally become the potential victims of Covid-19 during the post-MCO period. In 2018, data from the Welfare Department shows that only 19 per cent of child care workers looking after children four years and below has the minimum qualification of a child care course.

Our weak child care system has a greater risk to increase the prevalence of infections at a much larger scale.

In such a scenario, the pandemic plans should address the complexities of medication availability and facilities, medical interventions, and infection control in paediatric wards. The planning should focus on the ways to address the possible surges in numbers of paediatric patients after MCO.

This includes strengthening coordination between paediatric units and general district clinics. The Paediatric Specialist Outpatient Clinics in urban and rural areas must operate 24 hours to attend emergency and semi-emergency pediatric cases and they should be equipped with necessary professional resources.

Parents who work after MCO may need to find different sources of safe and quality care for their children. The informal child care takers are obliged to take moral responsibilities to practice hygiene, and infection control practices at their premises.

In the battle of fighting the virus, we do not have adequate time to formally institutionalise the informal child care system in our country. So, we as a community should play our role to mitigate the widespread of the virus.

Furthermore, preparing child care services to face pandemic is also crucial to fight the virus among children. Customised training programmes to the childcare workers (formal & informal) will help to improve their day to day preparedness to take care of a child.

Children in child care centres represent an important population to consider in attempts to alleviate the virus spread.

Communities should join hand in hand to create plans for addressing the child-specific issues during the post-MCO period. Coordinated approach among various stakeholders increase the effective response to Covid-19 pandemic.

Let us put the welfare of our children at the top of our priority list.

Kanmani Batumalai is from the International Institute of Public Policy and Management (INPUMA), University Malaya.

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