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Sunday, May 19, 2024

This Is the Year of the Shadow Pandemic

In 2022 we will still be feeling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. A great many of us have been counting numbers directly tied to the virus—how many people have been vaccinated, infected, or hospitalized, how many are on ventilators or have died. But we have tended to ignore the indirect effects of the virus—and of the measures taken to prevent infections—on our most vulnerable citizens: children, adolescents, and women. We must now turn our attention to this “shadow pandemic” if we are to have any hope of returning the world to normality.

While women, children, and adolescents are no more likely than others to get ill or die from coronavirus, they have disproportionately experienced interruptions to many of the services they rely on, due to lockdowns and the diversion of crucial resources.

Fewer than two in ten Covid-19 health-related activities considered gender in any explicit way, according to the latest “Global Health 50/50 Report,” published in 2021. But without acknowledging the possible impact of crises on different genders and ages, we can make very wrong choices. This is because decisionmakers, still most often men, tend to forget about the vulnerable.

The closing of schools during the pandemic, for example, has caused an educational gap for many children and adolescents. Governments are working to keep education as open as possible, but many have taken less notice of the fact that, for millions of children, the school lunch was their only meal of the day. Many countries haven’t even begun to plan for or even think about how they might reach those hungry children when schools continue to be closed.

In 2022 we will also see the lingering effects of a shadow pandemic in non-Covid global health care. While hospital systems continue to focus on Covid-19 vaccination and treatment, routine immunization for many diseases (most forgotten already in the Western world) and necessary access to maternal health care services have been pushed aside. As a consequence of the pandemic, for example, 39 per cent of 124 countries surveyed reported a drop in coverage of family planning services and 38 per cent reported drops in the coverage of antenatal and postnatal maternal-health services.

Even before the pandemic, our world was not on track to achieve several Sustainable Development Goals (set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by the year 2030) regarding women and children. Lockdowns and the reallocation of resources in 2020 and 2021 have worsened this situation. And combined with other crises affecting much of the world—ongoing conflict, climate change, economic slowdowns—they will lead to many more people, including women and children, suffering from ill health, undernourishment, and hunger.

As Covid-19 infection rates decrease, thanks to the successful rollout and uptake of vaccines, we will in 2022 turn our attention much more to this shadow pandemic and its impacts. It will not be frowned upon to be able to talk loudly and openly about the side effects of some of the policy measures we introduced to deal with the virus. We will see that we have no choice but to allocate local and global resources, such as nutritious food and continuous health care services, to those in the greatest need. And we will all have to work to prevent further damage to these vulnerable groups and repair the damage done so far.

Get more expert predictions for the year ahead. The WIRED World in 2022 features intelligence and need-to-know insights sourced from the smartest minds in the WIRED network. Available now on newsstands, as a digital download, or you can order your copy online.

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