Category Archives: Coronavirus

Vietnam sisters offer scholarships to keep students in school during pandemic 

Children and their parents play in a park in Nha Trang, Vietnam, after a COVID-19 lockdown was lifted on Oct. 17. (Joachim Pham)

Nguyen Duy Phuong, a 12th-grader, thought he could not afford to go to school this year as his father, who used to work as a day wage earner in Ho Chi Minh City and became jobless during the delta variant phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, returned home and still has no work.

His mother died years ago at a young age.

Phuong said he received 1.5 million dong ($66) in early October from Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hoa to get books and other basic supplies for his studies.

Phuong lives with his grandparents, one of whom has leprosy.

“I am walking on air about the generous gift. My family is deeply grateful to the nun and benefactors,” Phuong said, adding that he is trying to overcome difficulties to finish high school.

Hoa, a member of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Cai Mon Congregation based in Ben Tre Province, said, “We offered scholarships to 33 students, including Phuong, so that they could buy school uniforms and books, and share Internet service fees with one another as they gather in groups to learn online lessons.”

She said scholarship students are in third through 12th grades in the two southern provinces of Ben Tre and Tra Vinh. They receive 500,000-2 million dong ($22-88) each, depending on their situations.

Hoa said she also offered her own laptop to a group of students so they could attend online classes together. 

Their parents have been left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months and could not afford to get computers and other supplies for their studies.

As of Nov. 5, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health had recorded 953,547 infections that include 22,412 deaths since the coronavirus hit in early 2020.

As of Oct. 26, 25 out of the country’s 63 cities and provinces had to hold remote classes through the Internet and television so as to limit COVID-19 infection among students.

All schools in Tra Vinh still provided online courses while in Ben Tre some have reopened and others still held online classes due to the coronavirus since the new school year started in September.

Hoa said most of the scholarship recipients have relatives who work in industrial zones in Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Dong Nai and Binh Duong.

“Those students will surely drop out of school or perform poorly at school if they are not given financial support. They will take manual jobs with low wages to support their families and be caught in the poverty trap like their parents,” Hoa said.

The nun said she tries to support students in need regardless of their backgrounds as all people are God’s children. Most of the scholarship children are from families of other faiths who have been badly affected by the contagion.

She donated 6 million dong ($265) to Khmer ethnic Venerable Thach Da Ra, who leads Kachakkarama Thlot, a Buddhist pagoda based in Hiep Hoa Commune, to provide drinking water, disinfectants, food and other basic needs for 200 migrant workers at an isolated center in Cau Ngang District of Tra Vinh Province. The province is home to the Khmer ethnic group and Buddhists.

The workers and their children returned from Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, which are the country’s COVID-19 epicenters.

Hoa, who has been vaccinated with one dose, asked volunteers to deliver gifts to beneficiaries as she could not go out of her convent due to social distancing measures.

The nun said benefactors of Vietnamese origin abroad make donations to her to forward to those in need.

As of Nov. 5 in Vietnam, 59.4 million people aged 18 and above have been administered COVID-19 vaccines, but only 27 million of them were given two doses since mass inoculation was rolled out on March 8.

The Southeast Asian country has so far used eight brands of COVID-19 vaccines — Comirnaty, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Janssen, Vero Cell, Hayat-Vax, Sputnik V and Abdala.

Lovers of the Holy Cross of Cho Quan Sr. Therese Nguyen Thi Kim Dung said this year more than 100 students from Ho Chi Minh City and four other provinces have been given financial support by sisters. They are offered school fees, clothes, books, school supplies, bikes and food.

Dung, who is in charge of scholarships for poor students, said their families are badly affected by the pandemic due to loss of jobs and incomes. Parents of some have died of COVID-19, while many others had to bring their children home from Ho Chi Minh City because they could not support their studies.

On Oct. 4, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City, called on local congregations, parishes and associations to provide material and emotional support to 1,500 students who were orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.

Ho Chi Minh City started to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12-17 on Oct. 27. An estimated 8 million children of the same age will be vaccinated nationwide.

The Ministry of Education and Training reported that some 1.2 million students from poor families need computers and Internet services to attend online classes.

A Dominican sister from a convent based in Bien Hoa, the capital of Dong Nai Province, said the nuns work with benefactors in the country and abroad to provide students in second to 10th grades 500,000 dong ($22) each so that they can buy textbooks and other supplies.

They are children in more than 100 migrant families who are from the southern provinces of Ca Mau, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang and Can Tho. Families have one to three children each.

The nun, who asked not to be named, said those families, followers of other faiths, are given 120,000 dong each to cover one month’s cost of Internet services for their children’s studies. Students use computers and smartphones to attend online lessons.

She said their parents work at local markets and construction sites, sell lottery tickets and food on the streets, and drive motorbike taxis for a living but they have become jobless since June because of the coronavirus outbreak. They were not given financial support by the government because they have no personal papers.

She said the nuns regularly provide them with rice, instant noodles, cooking oil and other basic food. They are also offered money to pay their rent and fees for running water and power.

“Many people are moved to tears when they receive food from us. They are really depressed about being in small rooms, having no jobs, and lacking food for months,” she said, adding that many told her that they had thought of attempting suicide.

The nun said local people were injected with one dose of vaccines from Europe, North America and China.

Filles de Marie Immaculée Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Ha from Thua Luu convent in Thua Thien Hue Province said the nuns provide 40 bicycles for students whose families are stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ha said parents of many students suffer from the coronavirus and lost their jobs so they could not afford their children’s school fees and bicycles to go to school. Many students had to collect used items at dump sites, work at bakeries and do other work to save money to support their families and pay for their studies last summer.

She said many students have to drop out of schools due to financial problems caused by the pandemic.

A female teacher from Dien An Elementary School in Phong Dien District said 182 of the school’s 700 students have had to drop out for financial reasons.

Nuns from St. Paul de Chartres and Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation in Hue also have given scholarships to hundreds of students from first grade to college age whose parents were left unemployed in recent months. Without the scholarship help, college students were staying home to support their families and unable to stay in school.

“We go to great lengths to create favorable conditions for students to pursue their studies under the circumstances and encourage their families to overcome this hard time. We all have to hope for the best,” Ha said.

Mission work in Thailand continues, despite COVID-19

A village in the parish of Fang, in the Chiang Mai Diocese in Thailand, where the Presentation Sisters' mission community operates. The parish includes 21 villages, and the sisters work with all of them through their mission center. (Frances Hayes)
A village in the parish of Fang, in the Chiang Mai Diocese in Thailand, where the Presentation Sisters’ mission community operates. The parish includes 21 villages, and the sisters work with all of them through their mission center. (Courtesy of Frances Hayes)

Inspired by the command of Jesus, “Go out to the whole world” (Mark 16:15) and a similar exhortation of our foundress, Nano Nagle, some Presentation Sisters are missioned in the northern part of Thailand, bordering Myanmar and Laos. Our community in Thailand — made up of Indian, Pakistani and Filipina Sisters — is part of our Philippines unit.

So on behalf of the Thai mission community in the parish of Fang, in the Chiang Mai Diocese, Sister Jancy greets you all in the Thai language: “Sawadee kha!”

Our parish includes 21 villages, and we work with all of them through our mission center; we conduct regular visits and awareness programs in six villages. We are connected to about 630 families and 450 children.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, tribal people have been slowly migrating from Myanmar into northern Thailand, and remain concentrated mainly in the border areas between Myanmar and Thailand. The Thai government recognizes six tribal groups. We, the Presentation Sisters, are working with three of the groups: the Lahu, Akha and Thai Yai (the Shan migrant workers).

From 1999 to 2019, we worked in collaboration with the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) Italian Missionary priests and brothers, and now we work with the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Betharram community. Our ministries include visitation, health care, religious instruction, programs on drug prevention and human trafficking, and enabling the people to gain Thai citizenship and access their rights. Of course, we work with other religious congregations, network with diocesan commissions, and cooperate with Buddhist neighbors for celebrations and interfaith dialogue.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5 and 13 are our focus, to empower the people to bring about the changes we hope for in the health, education and gender equality of these people. We depend on the Thai government programs for assistance offered to those with disabilities. In a survey conducted throughout the parish villages we located 18 young people eligible for government aid. We also obtained access to a program making powdered milk available to babies whose mothers are unable to nurse them.

Information on the government program for the identification, prevention and eradication of COVID-19 has been available throughout the parish. We follow the protocols and rules which were announced by the Thai government and the church, conducted awareness programs, and distributed masks and sanitizing lotion for the people.

In collaboration with the Good Shepherd Sisters, 30 young people participated in workshops designed to inform the participants — and then their village communities — about the problems associated with human trafficking. This also entailed a visit to “red-light areas” of Bangkok and the rehabilitation center operated by the sisters at Pattaya. This new sense of awareness of the issues has created a greater strength of unity and determination to prevent the young people from being lured to the “big cities.” The participants have also taken on a more active leadership role within their village community.

We especially focus on the rights and opportunities for women and children, and equitable education for the children, providing board/lodging and transport for children so they can attend the mainstream school, and encouraging them to go on to vocational training or university studies.

Since all schooling is done in the Thai language, it is essential that the hill tribe children learn this very early, although it may be their second or third language. The sisters provide Thai and English lessons for the children at the Epiphany Catholic Centre run by the Betharram priests, as well as providing extension activities in sports, music and recreation. Keeping their own ethnic customs alive is done through community sharing of skills in dancing, handwork, singing and cultural celebrations. The children are encouraged to dress in their ethnic clothes for the Sunday liturgy and keep alive the customs and traditions of their people.

Life for the sisters is certainly very full and in one sense, the restrictions due to the COVID-19 lockdowns have granted a slight reprieve from their busyness; this has given them extra time to do researching and planning for the future development of the people they serve.

Two of the sisters in the local community went on home visits during the pandemic and were unable to return at that time because of lockdowns. I, Sister Jancy Selvaraj, was one of the two sisters left. I developed and offered a PowerPoint presentation on the Thai missions, via a Zoom meeting for the justice contacts and other interested sisters of the International Presentation Association.

I, Frances, am another Presentation Sister eagerly awaiting her return to Thailand! As a member of the West Australian Congregation, I ministered for five years in Thailand and am now waiting for the easing of travel restriction to be able to return. Then I will work as a missionary with Palms Australia, (an organization that facilitates Australian volunteer work) mentoring Thai teachers in their English lessons for the Thai and Karen students at the Thai/Myanmar northwest border.

We continue to rediscover the dynamism of Nano Nagle’s charism, unfolding for tribal migrants in northern Thailand so that they will have a future full of hope.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/column/mission-work-thailand-continues-despite-covid-19

COVID-19 disruption causing many deaths from TB, AIDS in poorest countries, fund says

Deon Yanga waits to be tested for tuberculosis at a mobile clinic in Gugulethu township near Cape Town, South Africa, March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

GENEVA, – Hundreds of thousands of people will die of tuberculosis left untreated because of disruption to healthcare systems in poor countries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global aid fund said.

In a few of the world’s poorest countries, excess deaths from AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) could even exceed those from the coronavirus itself, said the head of the Geneva-based aid body, known as the Global Fund.

The Fund’s annual report for 2020, released on Wednesday, showed that the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis in countries where it operates fell by 19%. A decline of 11% was reported in HIV prevention programmes and services.

“Essentially, about a million people less were treated for TB in 2020 than in 2019 and I’m afraid that will inevitably mean that hundreds of thousands of people will die,” Executive Director Peter Sands told Reuters.

While precise death tolls are as yet unknown, Sands said that for some poor countries, such as parts of the Sahel region in Africa, excess deaths from the setback in the fight against diseases such as TB or AIDS might prove higher than from COVID-19 itself.

The Geneva-based Global Fund is an alliance of governments, civil society and private sector partners investing more than $4 billion per year to fight tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. The United States is its top donor.

Sands said services were affected by COVID-19 lockdowns while clinics, staff and diagnostics normally used for TB were instead deployed for COVID-19 in countries such as India and across Africa. He added that he expected further disruptions this year due to the Delta variant.

He said the decline in treatment for other diseases “underscores the need to look at the total impact of COVID-19 and measure success in combating it not just by the reduction in deaths due to COVID-19 itself but to the knock on impact”.

Malaria proved to be an exception to the trend in 2020, and prevention activities remained stable or increased compared to 2019, the Global Fund said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210907220048-6v4oz/

UK food banks ‘prepare for the worst’ as COVID-19 aid comes to an end

emima Hindmarch, a staff member at The Bow Foodbank charity, holds bags of food to be handed out to low-income families in London, Britain, on September 22, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Sonia Elks

LONDON,- Charity food banks in Britain are “preparing for the worst” as the government starts winding up emergency aid measures put in place to cushion the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on millions of workers and low-income households.

An extra weekly payment of 20 pounds ($27) to support the country’s poorest families will be cut next month, and more than a million workers face an uncertain future as Britain becomes the first big economy to halt its COVID-19 jobs support scheme.

Food banks, which hand out staple goods from dried pasta to baby food, are especially concerned about the loss of the top-up to the Universal Credit (UC) benefit, which is claimed by almost 6 million people, according to official statistics.

“You’re going to have parents who are going without food so their kids can eat,” said Garry Lemon, policy and research director at the Trussell Trust, which supports more than 1,200 food bank centres across Britain.

“I’ve been speaking to lots of food banks in recent weeks and they are absolutely preparing for the worst … They are doing everything they can to ensure they have got enough food to be able to cope with the increase in need.”

The British move comes as other countries start wrapping up state aid programmes announced last year as COVID-19 battered the global economy.

In the United States, pandemic unemployment benefits that supported millions of jobless, gig workers and business owners came to an end in early September, a month after a moratorium on residential evictions expired.

Australia and Canada have also announced plans to end income subsidies in the near future.

A British government spokesperson said the income benefit increase was always intended to be temporary and had been effective in softening the pandemic’s impact on family finances, adding that the focus now was on helping people back to work.

‘DOWNWARD SPIRAL’

But anti-poverty groups said the loss of the benefit bonus would deal a heavy blow to low-income Britons.

It also comes as rising gas prices usher in higher domestic energy bills, with the average household expected to pay 139 pounds more each year.

“The last time I used it (a food bank) the kids hadn’t had dinner for six days,” said Emma, who has three young children and asked to be identified only by her first name.

Emma said the family was behind on paying bills due to financial stresses from the pandemic and the benefits cut would hit them hard.

“Once you’re in that financial downward spiral, it’s so hard to get back out of it because you’re constantly running behind,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“The one bill you can amend from week to week is your food bill,” said Emma, who is sharing her experiences with the Covid Realities research project that tracks the impact of the pandemic on low-income parents and carers.

Emma said she went to a food bank every few months – aiming to minimise visits so as not to deprive anyone in an even worse position.

“It’s going to be more regular (now) – it makes me so upset because it’s something that we never thought we’d have to do. We’re not a well-off family but we’ve never been this bad before. I can’t see a way out of it,” she said.

‘NEAR FULL CAPACITY’

Nationwide, more than 800,000 people will be pushed into poverty by the benefit cut, according to British think-tank the Legatum Institute.

A fifth of the benefit’s claimants said they would “very likely” need to skip meals once the uplift is withdrawn, found a survey of more than 2,000 people carried out for the Trussell Trust.

A similar number said they would struggle to afford to heat their homes.

“Independent food banks are bracing themselves for a surge in demand as well as the challenges of food supply shortages and a reduction in donations,” said Sabine Goodwin, the coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network.

At Moray Food Plus, a food bank in Scotland, Mairi McCallum said they were already running “at almost full capacity”.

“We’re concerned about the negative impact the UC cut will have and the strain this will put on our organisation,” McCallum said. “There’s only so much more we are able to do.”

At one East London food bank, where a stream of visitors arrived to pick up bags of store cupboard essentials, organisers have already had to limit the total lifetime number of visits to 12 per household.

“We’re always getting new clients,” said Jemima Hindmarch, a spokesperson for The Bow Foodbank, adding that they “constantly” worry about having enough supplies.

The impact of the benefit cut and rising heating costs over the winter months is likely to be “catastrophic” for people already struggling to cope, she said.

“It’s pushing people just a little bit lower below that poverty line.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210930000004-yzl1y/

Sisters join ranks of hospital volunteers in Vietnam’s COVID epicenters

Women and men religious arrive on Aug. 20 at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay while serving COVID-19 patients at local hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)
Women and men religious arrive on Aug. 20 at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay while serving COVID-19 patients at local hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (Joachim Pham)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — Hundreds of women and men religious in Ho Chi Minh City and two provinces in south Vietnam badly hit by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 have voluntarily joined front-line forces for the fourth time in two months to take care of patients at hospitals and in isolated places.

On Aug. 20, 115 Catholics and Buddhists in the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese set off to work at hospitals for COVID-19 patients in Ho Chi Minh City. They follow the three previous waves of 260 religious volunteers who ministered to local hospitals for one to two months beginning July 22, Aug. 11-12, and Aug. 16.

Most of volunteers are sisters, and many will serve only one month so they can return to work for their day care centers as the new school year starts in September. The volunteers will quarantine for two weeks before returning to their convents.

This time, seven Catholic priests and 85 religious from 14 congregations of women religious and 10 congregations of men religious based in the city were received at Minh Tam Hotel, where they will stay for one month while they work at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital in Thu Duc.

Dalat Lovers of the Holy Cross Sr. Mary Bui Thi Bich Huyen said she and four other sisters from her convent will join the front-line workers. They each have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We feel we have an absolute duty to work with other people to care for patients as all of us are God’s children,” Huyen said.

The 41-year-old nun said they are nursery teachers and have no professional skills in health care, but “we can give patients our tender care, emotional support and prayers as they have no loved ones by their side. We pick up this chance to bring God’s love to all people we serve.”

Phan Kieu Thanh Huong, vice chairman of the city’s Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of the communist government, said she greatly appreciated local Catholic volunteers who bravely sacrifice themselves to look after patients and help reduce health care providers’ workloads.

Huong said the conditions at the hospitals are not as good as the religious’ convents and monasteries, so they have to try their best to cooperate with other people to provide good care for patients and push back the pandemic.

As of Aug. 25, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai, the country’s epicenters of the contagious delta variant, have recorded 289,084 infections and 8,395 deaths among the country’s 381,363 cases and 9,349 deaths since the first cases were detected on April 27, according to the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital, expressed his deep gratitude to the archdiocese for sending another group of religious volunteers to the hospital.

Tuan praised the previous religious volunteers for their tremendous enthusiasm supporting patients and medical staff.

“The hospital would fail to operate effectively without volunteers,” he said.

He said the hospital will offer the best and safest conditions it can to volunteers so they can bring real health benefits to patients. The volunteers will be tested for COVID-19 and train in basic medical care skills before they are sent to the hospital. Those who have not been vaccinated will get vaccines, and the volunteers will be trained in how to protect themselves from infection.

Mary Queen Sr. Teresa Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Hue said she and five other sisters had worked for just three hours at a hospital for COVID-19 patients as part of the first wave of volunteers in late July before they were put in quarantine after they were told they had contracted the virus. However, health officials later apologized for giving them wrong results: They did not have COVID-19.

Hue said they registered to serve at the COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital for one month this time.

“We eagerly work with others to bring God’s love to patients who have no relatives by their side,” said Hue, who works as a nurse at a day care center run by her congregation. She also takes care of elderly sisters.

Hue said patients in hospitals are too weak to look after themselves. Many are put on ventilators and cannot talk.

“Volunteers in full protective gear are assigned to feed serious patients through tubes, wipe their bodies, change diapers and sheets, clean facilities, collect waste and help medical workers treat patients,” she said. “We show Catholic patients how to make a sign of the cross, encourage them to recite prayers and pray for dying ones.”

“We are told that we face high risk of infection and can die, but we trust in the Divine Providence and believe God protects us,” Hue said. “This is a great opportunity for us to bear witness to Christian values among people in misery.”

On Aug. 20, Salesian Fr. Joseph Mary Tran Hoa Hung, who oversees all orders, societies and associations based in the archdiocese, said 352 priests, nuns and brothers have been sent to serve three local hospitals since July 22 at the city’s request.

Hung said that 87 of them were put in quarantine on Aug. 23 for two weeks before they return to work at their convents.

Hung said the outbreak of the delta variant is still raging in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, so local health authorities sought help from the archdiocese. The city faces a severe lack of medical staff working with COVID-19 patients because of the number of people with the virus.

He said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang called on local congregations to continue taking part in this charitable activity. He said local sisters, brothers, seminary candidates and novices between the ages of 20 and 50 are encouraged to spend one month helping COVID-19 patients.

Fr. Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu, who represents Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, and the city’s authorities and health officials welcomed the religious volunteers. Vu said the religious who have been assigned to local hospitals graciously take on a high risk of infection to work in dangerous places and serve coronavirus victims.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to show our creative vigor, love and care to medical workers and patients,” he said. “What we have are our soft hearts and God’s strength.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/sisters-join-ranks-hospital-volunteers-vietnams-covid-epicenters

WHO calls for moratorium on COVID vaccine booster jabs

Just more than 1.8 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with nearly 50 percent in the EU and US [File: Leo Correa/AP Photo]
Just more than 1.8 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with nearly 50 percent in the EU and US [File: Leo Correa/AP Photo]

The World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country in the world to be vaccinated.

“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing.

He added that G-20 nations had an important leadership role to play as those countries were the “biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines”.

The WHO’s plea comes as the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant prompts discussions about boosters in wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, even as a new wave of COVID-19 causes havoc in countries that have been unable to give people even a single jab.

The US on Wednesday rejected the UN health agency’s call for a delay saying it was a “false choice” and that it was possible to do both.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, noted that the US had donated more than 110 million doses of vaccines around the world.

“That is more than any other country has shared combined,” she said. “We also, in this country, have enough supply, to ensure that every American has access to a vaccine. We will have enough supply to ensure, if the FDA decides that boosters are recommended for a portion of the population, to provide those as well.”

“We definitely feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, adding the country had sufficient supply to continue distributing shots abroad while also ensuring that every American can be fully vaccinated.

Last week, Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a third shot of the coronavirus vaccine, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to over 60s, while Germany will start booster shots next month.

“We need to focus on those people who are most vulnerable, most at risk of severe disease and death, to get their first and second doses,”  WHO’s Katherine O’Brien told reporters.

Vaccine inequity

The WHO has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world, given the gap in global vaccine distribution.

A little more than 1.8 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with nearly 50 percent in both the EU and the US, according to Our World in Data.

Some 101 doses per 100 people have been given in countries categorised as high income by the World Bank, with the 100-doses mark surpassed this week.

That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.

The UN health agency argues that no one is safe until everyone is safe because the longer and more widely the coronavirus circulates, the greater the chance that new variants could emerge – and prolong a global crisis in fighting the pandemic.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, said the moratorium was about an appeal to countries considering booster doses to “put a hold” on such policies “until and unless we get the rest of the world caught up” in the fight against the pandemic.

”As we’ve seen from the emergence of variant after variant, we cannot get out of it unless the whole world gets out of it together. And with the huge disparity in vaccination coverage, we’re simply not going to be able to achieve that,” Aylward said.

Unequal distribution has been at the centre of debate for months at the World Trade Organization as developing countries, headed by India and South Africa, call for the temporary removal of intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines to boost global manufacturing capacity.

The WHO has no power to require countries to act on its recommendations, and many in the past have ignored its appeals on issues like donating vaccines, limiting cross-border travel and taking steps to boost production of vaccines in developing countries.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/4/who-moratorium-on-covid-vaccine-booster

India’s child victims of COVID-19

'Children who have run away or have been abandoned are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,' says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of Railway Children India [Photo courtesy of RCI]
‘Children who have run away or have been abandoned are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,’ says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of Railway Children India [Photo courtesy of RCI

Last year, Shyam*, 17, became one of the thousands of children in danger of living on the streets of India.

Shyam’s father had abandoned his family in Gudhiyari – a village in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state – eight years earlier. Shyam’s older brother, Gopi, who was 16 at the time, had turned to alcohol to cope, subsequently becoming violent towards their mother, 47-year-old Kishori*.

To protect her and help support the family, Shyam dropped out of school when he was 10 and worked odd jobs as a dishwasher. But, unable to bear the stress and violence at home, he ran away in February 2020, in the hope of reaching Mumbai.

“I did go to school regularly,” Shyam explains. “But then my father left us and we did not know for a long time where he was.

“We found out through relatives that he had remarried. My mother worked several odd jobs to put food on the table. My brother turned to alcohol and would fight with her and beat her up. I felt I had no choice but to quit school to protect my mother from my brother and help her out. But then one day I fought with my brother and left home in anger. I thought I would go to Mumbai and look for work there,” he says.

India has the largest railway network in Asia. A 2009 study conducted by Railway Children India (RCI), a child rights organisation that helps at-risk youngsters at railway stations, street children and slum dwellers, found that 121,860 children were then at risk at 32 railway platforms across all 16 railway zones (there are 17 zones now).

This equals a child arriving alone at a big city railway station and being at risk every five minutes in India.

“These children have run away or have been abandoned and are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,” says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of RCI.

Shyam was one of the “lucky” ones. He was rescued by The Railway Children (RCI). It picked him up at Raipur station and reunited him with his family. As a result, he was offered counselling and enrolled in a vocational training school in the neighbouring city of Durg which was being run by a local non-government organisation (NGO), Chetna Women and Children Society. His brother also received counselling.

But, then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and threw their lives back in disarray. Shyam was doing well until a nationwide, 21-day lockdown was implemented overnight on March 24, 2020, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. His mother, a domestic worker, and Gopi, a labourer, both lost their jobs. The RCI stepped in to help provide the family with groceries.

But, with India in the grip of the second wave of the pandemic, Kishori and Gopi are still out of work and the family is struggling to make ends meet. Kishori hopes that as soon as the lockdown eases, she can send Gopi back to the rehabilitation centre to continue with his addiction counselling.

Progress ‘undone’

Children in India, particularly those from marginalised communities, had it tough even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the last Census in 2011 shows that India has 10.1 million child labourers.

More than 200,000 Indian children are working or living on the street, according to Save the Children’s 2019 Spotlight on Invisibles survey, which covered 10 cities in the country. Nearly 60 percent of these children are between the ages of six and 14.

Governmental organisations like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the 24-hour child emergency helpline (Childline 1098), district-level child welfare committees (CWCs) and a vast network of collaborative organisations in the public and private sectors have worked to improve the standard of living of children in India and have made some great strides over the years.

However, they all agree that much of the progress made in addressing child labour, education, nutrition, mental health, prevention of domestic violence and child marriage has been undone by COVID-19.

“Financial instability in families, which can arise for a multitude of reasons, can quickly snowball into more dire situations,” explains Anurag Kundu, chair of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR). “These include eviction from homes for non-payment of rent, children dropping out of schools or running away, alcoholism, child labour, drug addiction or poor nutrition, leaving India’s children vulnerable to untold adversity and emotional trauma.”

The rise in child marriages

One form of adversity is child marriage.

On February 11, the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a Bengaluru-based grassroots organisation and one of the collaborators behind Childline 1098, received a phone call alerting them to an impending child marriage.

Sixteen-year-old Deepa Byrappa*’s parents intended to marry her to a 26-year-old man.

The APSA, along with representatives from the Bengaluru Urban CWC and the Byappanahalli police, in whose jurisdiction the marriage was going to happen, went to Deepa’s home. She told CWC workers that she did not want to get married but was being forced by her parents who said they would not need to meet the cost of a large wedding if she married during the COVID pandemic.

Deepa was placed in a government shelter until March 4, when her parents submitted a written undertaking that they would not have her married until she was of legal age (18). Deepa returned home – and was married off a few days later.

Childline was informed and legal proceedings initiated. The parents of the bride and the groom were arrested and today Deepa lives in a government-run girl’s shelter.

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/6/3/india-covid-crisis-what-about-the

Revealed: 46m displaced people excluded from Covid jab programmes

Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war
Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of millions of asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people around the world have been excluded from national Covid-19 vaccination programmes, according to World Health Organization research seen by the Guardian.

The gaps mean that a scattered group numbering at least 46 million people, about the size of the population of Spain, may struggle to get vaccinated even if a global shortage of doses eases.

Among the excluded are 5.6 million people internally displaced by six decades of civil war in Colombia, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya and Syria and nearly 5 million migrants in Ukraine.

India, Nigeria and Indonesia are among several large countries whose vaccination programmes exclude displaced people, according to the WHO’s review, which was conducted in March. Others, such as Pakistan, appear in the list but have since amended their plans to make them more inclusive.

International health groups have been considering the problem of excluded populations for months, and the groups behind the vaccine-sharing facility Covax approved the establishment in March of a channel of doses reserved as a source of last resort for the most vulnerable people in communities with no other pathway to a jab.

The channel, called the “humanitarian buffer”, will draw on 5% of the doses allocated to poor and lower-middle income countries through Covax, redirecting them toward the most vulnerable 20% in excluded communities, to be administered by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Covax has estimated a maximum of about 33 million people would be eligible for vaccines from the buffer, accounting for the most at risk within these groups – health workers, older people and those with risky co-morbidities. It is unclear when, if ever, others in these excluded communities will be vaccinated and from what source.

Humanitarian groups have said that even if all migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations were included in national plans, there would still be between 60 and 80 million people living in rebel-held territories around the world who would be out of reach.

The WHO research illustrates the scale of the gaps within government schemes. More than 70% of the 104 vaccination plans reviewed excluded migrants, leaving out more than 30 million around the world, including 4.9 million people in India and 2.6 million in the Ivory Coast.

Nor did the majority of plans studied include refugees and asylum seekers, stranding nearly 5 million people without a shot, including 1.8 million in Colombia, 590,000 in Syria and 489,000 in Kenya.

About 11.8 million internally displaced people were also omitted from most plans, leaving out 2.7 million Nigerians and more than a million Indians, according to the research.

Public health experts have argued that exclusionary vaccine plans are ultimately self-defeating, leaving large pockets of the population unprotected and still able to contract and transmit the virus, including variants that may have the potential to evade the immunity granted by vaccines.

“As we learned from the outset of Covid-19 and all the restrictions put in place, availability of testing and access to healthcare for coronavirus, no one is safe until everyone is safe, and that is absolutely the same for vaccination programmes,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher in refugee and migrant rights at Human Rights Watch.

“What we’re seeing in India now, and what we saw in the UK, is the development of variants which rely and depend on a community not being immune, and the extent to which vaccinations are rolled out to all in a territory is critical for the containment of the virus and containment of threatening variants.”

Vaccine distribution tends to illuminate a state’s blind spots, and even some governments that putatively included refugees in their plans were doing too little to make sure they were actually vaccinated, Hardman said.

She gave the example of Lebanon, which has included the 1.5 million refugees who make up a third of its population in its national plan, “but what we’ve seen is extremely low take-up rates and an unwillingness by authorities to put forward the kinds of promises and assurances and mechanisms to get refugees and vulnerable groups to vaccination centres”, she said.

Countries can also apply to access Covax’s humanitarian buffer in extraordinary circumstances, such as the inflow of a large population of refugees.

There is also a separate “contingency provision”, drawing from the same emergency stockpile, which allows countries to apply for an immediate surge of extra doses through Covax in case of an extraordinary outbreak, potentially such as that which India has experienced over past weeks.

A spokesperson for the WHO did not comment on how many of countries named in the research had subsequently addressed the gaps in their vaccination programmes, but said: “Experience shows that despite best efforts, at-risk populations in humanitarian settings are often left behind and are at risk of being missed by government-led vaccination activities.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/07/at-least-46m-displaced-people-excluded-from-covid-jabs-who-study-shows

Almost half of Myanmar risks falling into poverty by 2022: UNDP

Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February's military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]
Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February’s military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge almost half of Myanmar’s population into poverty, reversing economic gains made over the last 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The ongoing political crisis will, doubtless, further compound the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, reducing incomes,” the UNDP said in a report (PDF) published on Friday.

In the organisation’s worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, the equivalent of about 26 million people, could be living in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, the UNDP said.

The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyats ($1) a day in 2017 terms.

The political crisis is likely to affect small businesses acutely, resulting in lost wages and a drop in access to food, basic services and social protection, according to the UNDP.

Women bearing the brunt

As a result, it is women and children who are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of the two crises.

“The effects of COVID-19, amplified by the effects of the overthrow of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.

“This is related to the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor are, have been ground zero for the pandemic and the focus of the most severe crackdowns,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even before recent events, one-third of Myanmar’s people were living “on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty”, the agency said.

More than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the start of 2020, according to the UNDP.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement and mass protests around the country to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was removed. Its records show 3,461 in detention.

Food concerns

Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the start of the year.

The UN’s food agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup risk undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said food prices were rising, with palm oil 20 percent higher in some places around the main city of Yangon since the beginning of February and rice prices up 4 percent in the Yangon and Mandalay areas since the end of February.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large parts of the country’s economy, with interests in Myanmar’s mobile phone system, tourism, food and beverage sector and its lucrative precious stone mining industry. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands which have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labour, have also been reassessing their involvement in the country, likely putting further pressure on the economy and its workers.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/30/almost-half-of-myanmar-risks-falling-into-poverty-by-2022-undp

Dispute over COVID-19 deaths pits indigenous Brazilians against gov’t

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe looks on after meeting with the parliamentary front in defense of the rights of indigenous people at the chamber of deputies in Brasilia, Brazil February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.

Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.

“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.

Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.

That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.

“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.

“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”

INTIMIDATION

Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.

“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.

On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.

Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.

Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.

“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.

“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”

Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.

“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.

Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210506175032-l691x/