Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Tiny one-year-old Max has been sick since he was just one month old.

“He is always sick,” his mother Esther says. “He is small. He can’t get rid of the cough.

“All I want is for my son to be better.”

Esther and her family live three hours from Port Moresby in a tiny village that is an 8km walk from the closest health centre.

She has made the long trek to Port Moresby with Max ten times in his short life, determined to get him the help he needs.

He has been treated with course after course of antibiotics, but his little body is still wracked with coughs and he’s wasting away before his mother’s eyes.

Without urgent treatment, his life hangs in the balance.

Like her little brother, eleven-year-old Ruth is small for her age. She is starting to show all the signs of TB.

Since Max fell ill, Ruth has missed school again and again.

“When my brother is sick my mother has to take him to Port Moresby. There’s no one to look after me so I go to my grandmother’s house and I don’t go to school.”

Now, Ruth is sick too, with the enlarged lymph nodes and cough that are sure signs of TB.

Unless she receives treatment quickly, Ruth faces months of debilitating illness, more disruption to her education, and the risk of life-long disability – or even death.

Like any mum, Esther’s love for her children knows no bounds. She’s desperate to help her children get well.

Walking for hours over rough ground to reach the nearest health centre, carrying a sick baby. Collecting coconuts for days on end, to sell for the bus fare to Port Moresby. Taking trip after trip to the distant city, separated from her husband and daughter while she tries to get treatment that will stop her baby coughing.

Esther will never stop fighting to save her children’s lives, but unless she can access the healthcare they need, her fierce determination may not be enough – and during this COVID-19 pandemic, her children are at greater risk than ever.

Almost 90% of the population in PNG lives in remote areas where they have trouble accessing health care.

Parents like Esther face overwhelming challenges in trying to protect their children from infectious disease, including:

  • Lack of access to medical care. Even where there is a health facility within walking distance, facilities and services are often extremely basic and vaccines or medicine may not be available.
  • The cost of travelling to seek medical care. Many families like Esther’s do not have their own transport – and time away from home often means lost income and extra expenses they simply cannot afford.

Will you help mums like Esther protect their children from infectious disease?

Your gift today could help provide life-saving health care to children like Ruth and Max.

For children in poor communities, the collateral damage from COVID-19 is just as big a risk as the virus itself.

These are some of the ways the pandemic is affecting children in developing communities:

  • School closures: Schools have closed, and many children may never return.
  • Food shortages: Food is scarce, due to disrupted supply chains and lockdown laws.
  • Gaps in healthcare: Health clinics are struggling to cope, and many immunisation campaigns have been suspended.
  • Job losses: The psychological stress on families is enormous, with parents losing work and facing an uncertain future.
  • Increase in domestic violence: Sadly, this has resulted in an increase in domestic violence, with children both experiencing or witnessing abuse in their homes.

The five priorities of our response intersect to help stop the spread of the virus and mitigate its potential harm, whether direct or indirect, to children and young people.

1. Stop COVID-19 from infecting children and communities

We are distributing soap, hand sanitiser, gloves and masks to families, and personal protective equipment to health workers. Community hand-washing stands are being constructed, and hygiene information is being provided. For children being treated for COVID-19 or subject to quarantine measures, we are creating child-friendly spaces with age-appropriate toys and books.

2. Help children continue learning

With schools closed, we are supporting children’s education through learning programs delivered online or via radio. We remain vigilant and prepared to address the increased risk of online sexual abuse that accompanies children’s greater exposure to the internet, and are focused on increasing the knowledge and self-protective behaviors of children and families who have been moved to rely on the online environment. For students without online access, we are distributing home learning kits with materials and guidelines for their use.

PNG hotline

3. Keep children safe from harm

We are supporting community-based child protection systems that identify and respond to cases of child abuse or exploitation, and providing virtual, online and phone-based counselling and emergency safety planning for women and children experiencing violence. We are supporting national social and protective essential services so that they can continue operating, and delivering rapid training to their staff so that they can screen for and respond to vulnerabilities in families. Temporary shelters have been provided for young people who live on the street, and safe care arranged for children separated from their caregivers due to COVID-19 treatment or prevention measures. 

4. Ensure that children get the food they need

To help the most vulnerable families keep food on the table, pay rent and cover other basic household needs, we are providing cash transfers. Where possible, we are distributing food and basic household items directly to communities, carefully abiding by COVID-19 protection measures.

5. Supporting young people to play an active role in the response

We will be surveying children to understand their concerns, ideas and opinions. Their feedback will influence our program response. Young people are being given the tools to develop their own videos to share with their peers and the wider community. As we work with governments, local partners and communities to respond to the pandemic, we will ensure children’s voices are heard.

Together, we can protect children around the world from the impacts of COVID-19

Together we will fight to protect children from the direct impacts of COVID-19, and from the cascade of effects caused by the virus, including the economic crisis that is unfolding throughout the world. 

Help prevent the spread and impact of COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. Support our COVID-19 emergency appeal to help the children and families who are most vulnerable during this crisis.

If you donate before 30 June, your donation is tax deductible on your next refund.