Just like bacteria or animals, viruses grow and evolve to survive. The influenza virus is known to mutate, which is why we require new vaccines annually to protect vulnerable populations. More recently we have seen the impact virus mutations can have on infectious disease response with the emergence of several new COVID-19 variants. This is why public health and outbreak management strategies continue to evolve in response.
In light of the continued development of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe, and emergence of new strains, we look at how and why viruses mutate.
What is a virus?
A virus is a small infectious agent that can only replicate inside the living cells of an organism. A virus cannot reproduce outside its host, and unlike bacteria, viruses cannot live or grow independently in the environment. Viruses are not considered alive because they cannot metabolise like other living things. They must invade the cellular machinery of a host cell to produce copies of themselves.
Viruses cause diseases by invading healthy cells and using them for their own purposes.
Humans are social creatures, and behaviours such as hugging, hand-shaking and kissing can transmit viruses. While some viruses are spread through direct physical contact , other viruses can also be transmitted through droplets resulting from a person sneezing or coughing.
Diseases that spread from an animal to a human are known as zoonoses.
While some animals may show no symptoms at all, they can serve as hosts until transmission occurs with humans who can then become sick. Often these are new diseases to humans who haven’t yet developed a natural defence against them, and can result in severe illness.
You can get the flu by being in contact with tiny droplets in the air created from infected people speaking or breathing.
What do we mean by virus “mutation” or “variants”?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the genetic material of a virus can change when it replicates. This change is known as a “mutation” and once a virus has one or several mutations, it becomes a “variant” of the original virus.
As viruses circulate around a community, the more they can mutate and change. As a result of this community transmission, the virus variant may better adapt to the environment than the original virus. This is known as “virus evolution.”When a virus mutates, its transmissibility or severity can change The COVID-19 Delta variant is more contagious than previous COVID-19 strains, and is a prime example of “virus evolution” in the community.
It is also advisable to follow the directions and health advice of your professional governing body and get vaccinated. The importance of vaccines cannot be overstated. They have saved countless lives and continue to do so every day across the globe. If you are concerned about some of the misinformation circulating about COVID-19 vaccinations, you can read our myth-busting article COVID-19 vaccine myths: fact vs fiction.
What impact do the new variants, such as the Delta COVID-19 strain have?
As the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate, many are left wondering what’s next?
The WHO confirms that the COVID-19 vaccines either in development or currently being administered worldwide, are expected to provide a good degree of protection from the new variants.
Despite the varying mutations of COVID-19, vaccines are still an effective means to help fight and reduce the severity of the virus.
How you can help fight COVID-19 around the world
The global health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated.. Impacts such as healthcare facilities becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, school and business closures, and social and travel restrictions, have been devastating for many developing communities around the globe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of disadvantaged children and their families around the world.
Fortunately, the ongoing support of more than 42,000 Australians has allowed ChildFund and its local partners to rapidly respond to the urgent needs of communities during this very challenging time.
By Margaret Sheehan,
CEO ChildFund Australia
A sincere thank you to our donors whose generosity has been the backbone of ChildFund’s work over the past year.
For children and their families around the world it has been – and for many continues to be – a tremendously difficult time.
The collateral damage from COVID-19 has been just as big a risk as the virus itself for many poor communities.
Your commitment has enabled ChildFund to quickly adapt our programs to meet the health, education, and protection needs of children during the pandemic.
In times of crisis, this support is more critical than ever, and our focus has been on the following key areas.
1. Stop COVID-19 from infecting children and communities
We have been distributing hygiene and sanitation kits to families, and personal protective equipment to health workers.
Community hand-washing stations have been constructed, and hygiene information has been provided.
In India, ChildFund’s COVID-19 response activities have reached more than 1.5 million people in 15 states.
The support of Australians and donors around the globe has helped to distribute more than 40,000 hygiene kits this year.
Each hygiene kit contains hand sanitiser, face masks, soap and disinfectant.
With your support, ChildFund India and its local partners have also been running COVID-19 awareness campaigns across the country, encouraging families to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
ChildFund has also focused on tackling misinformation to increase public confidence in the vaccine.
Frontline healthcare workers in rural areas in India now also have the equipment they need to support local communities.
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), ChildFund, in collaboration with its partners on the ground, has continued to provide essential health services to rural communities, which have experienced a reduction in services because of COVID-19.
These include vaccination, antenatal care, tuberculosis/HIV/malaria screening, family planning, growth monitoring, and other priority health services.
ChildFund PNG has also worked with rural health centres to improve hygiene and sanitation facilities, including installing water tanks and handwashing stations.
2. Help children continue learning
National lockdowns around the globe have interrupted the education of children and young people.
ChildFund has worked with local partners, government ministries, communities and teachers to support the delivery of learning programs through a range of new channels including online, television, and radio.
ChildFund Cambodia has worked closely with local and regional governments to establish small community classes.
These classes are led by groups of committed local teachers.
Held outdoors, the classes have been essential to ensuring children in remote and rural communities, who do not have internet access at home, can continue learning.
In Timor-Leste, children can now access a digital library at home to help improve their literacy skills.
Students can choose from more than 200 digital books, written in their local language Tetum, that are age and culturally appropriate.
ChildFund Timor-Leste has also been distributing educational packs to pre-school children in rural and remote communities to help them continue to learn and play at home.
Over 350 pre-school children from 10 early childhood development centres have received a pack, which contains storybooks, toys, Lego, jigsaw puzzles, balls, drawing and writing materials.
3. Keep children safe from harm
ChildFund has been supporting child protection systems that identify and respond to cases of child abuse or exploitation, in response to the rise of family violence during the pandemic.
We have also been providing virtual, online and phone-based counselling and emergency safety planning for women and children experiencing violence.
In Vietnam, ChildFund has partnered with the Department of Child Affairs to develop a new child protection app. Hotline 111 can be used by anyone to report incidents of child abuse or seek support.
A key function of the digital service is an online library that provides users with information on children’s rights and safety skills for children.
In Papua New Guinea, we have recruited and trained more counsellors to work with the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, a confidential phone counselling service.
ChildFund Australia established this free national helpline in 2015 in response to PNG’s endemic levels of family violence.
The additional counsellors over the past year have been crucial to manage the increase in calls related to family violence, psycho-social distress and COVID-19 enquiries.
4. Ensure children get the food
In some countries ChildFund has provided cash to the most vulnerable families to purchase food for their children, pay rent and cover basic household needs. In communities with poor access to markets, ChildFund has also distributed food and basic household items directly to communities.
In both urban and rural communities in Kenya, families have struggled to find and buy food because lockdown laws and travel restrictions have forced markets and shops to close.
ChildFund Kenya has delivered emergency food packages to affected children and their families in these poor communities.
These packages contain enough food to feed a family-of-six for a month.
Each package contains 24kg of maize, a staple grain used in many Kenyan dishes.
Families also receive 10kgs of nutritious beans, peas or lentils, and 2L of cooking oil.
In addition to food, families have also received clean water, soap and other necessities.
ChildFund Kenya has also provided vulnerable families with cash transfers, which can be very effective during an emergency because they can be deployed more urgently than actual goods, which need to be sourced, transported and distributed.
A transfer of cash provides flexibility for families, because they can use it to meet their specific needs, and allows them to purchase essentials without having to sell livestock or household items to survive.
In Kenya, cash transfers were provided to families most impacted by COVID-19, specifically families with children under the age of five, people with medical conditions, and families who have lost income.
Families across the Americas, including Guatemala, have also received food packages.
Each food package includes staples of high nutrient flour, rice, beans, oil and salt.
For children like four-year-old Yasmin and seven-year-old Frank, it has made all the difference.
“The pandemic affected us a lot,” says Mariselda. “We didn’t have any way to work or make money.”
With your support, ChildFund made sure that mothers like Mariselda didn’t have to worry about their children going hungry.
5. Support young people to play an active role in the response
As ChildFund works with governments, local partners and communities to respond to the pandemic, we have been ensuring children’s voices are also heard, and that they can play active leadership roles in their communities.
This includes giving young people the tools and skills to develop their own stories about COVID-19 to share with their peers and the wider community.
In Laos, ChildFund Rugby's Pass It Back program has empowered young people to become leaders in their community.
Pass It Back coaches have been teaching their peers how to keep themselves safe and healthy during the pandemic.
This has included passing on recommended health guidelines, practising social distancing and good hygiene and sanitation.
Coaches are also conducting life skills training to help young people navigate the social and emotional challenges of lockdowns and other restrictions.
Together, we have been able to respond to the urgent needs of children and communities when it mattered most.
We are so grateful for your support this year and appreciate your ongoing commitment as we continue to deal with the worst impacts of the pandemic.
We love being a part of a network of global citizens who are committed to creating a better world for all children and young people.
From all of us at ChildFund Australia, and on behalf of the children and communities with whom we work, thank you for your compassion and care, in supporting programs that make a difference.