As mass testing for COVID-19 began in key cities this week, Save the Children Philippines is calling on local officials to put in place protective measures for children who may face discrimination and stigma when parents or guardians test positive.
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines, said a person’s health status, whether real or perceived, should not be a basis for discrimination and mistreatment.
Cases of stigmatization of COVID-19 positive patients, their families, and health workers have been reported prior to mass testing for COVID-19. These include a health worker who was splashed with bleach on his face by five people on his way home in Sultan Kudarat, South of Manila; nurses in IloIlo City in the Visayas who were being evicted from their rented homes, and a health worker was prevented from leaving his house has been barricaded by the subdivision and barangay officials after a first COVID-19 patient was reported in the city.
Atty. Muyot urged local governments to implement concrete and targeted measures to make sure individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 have access to proper health care support, and their children do not suffer from neglect and abandonment.
Local governments should also ensure that children who might be separated from parents or caregivers who are isolated or hospitalized because of COVID-19 or those who might be orphaned will continue to be cared for by trusted adults. It is preferable for these children to be placed in the care of their closest relatives, but in case this may not be immediately possible, alternative care must be provided.
“The COVID-19 pandemic poses major risks to children and their families such as disruption of routine immunization, antenatal care services, therapy sessions for children with disabilities, and other necessary health interventions,” said Atty. Muyot, adding that “the health crisis may also lead children to risks of neglect, abandonment, violence, and exploitation through a loss of or separation from primary caregivers.”
He said that the discrimination and stigma within the communities against people who are tested COVID-19 positive need to be addressed by the government through a sustained public information campaign to provide accurate information on COVID-19 and practical steps to protect themselves from getting infected. This can also be addressed by ensuring that there are safe and confidential mechanisms for people to seek support if they suspect that they might be infected.
“Stigma drives people to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, and prevent them from seeking prompt health care,” said Atty. Muyot.
He said community guidelines must also integrate the specific needs of children with disabilities when their parents, guardians are tested positive for COVID-19.
“We call on local leaders to provide child-friendly, gender, and disability sensitive information to help children know how they can protect themselves from getting infected by COVID-19, be protected from abuse and exploitation, and where to report and seek help,” said Atty. Muyot.