Specialists call for prioritizing primary health care programs for children and mothers


11% decline in the national vaccination program

September 29, 2020


Amman - Specialists have called for a tracer study of the impact of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic on early childhood, noting that “although children are not the most vulnerable to infection, current indications show that they were among the most affected by the pandemic’s indirect consequences which have impacted health services, education and social aspects”.

Comments were made during an on-line symposium organized by the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA) yesterday on “the impact of the Corona pandemic on early childhood,” as participants confirmed that a tracer study will contribute to setting priorities and developing appropriate response to protect children.

Dr. Manal At-Tahtamouni, a researcher on family health issues, said that “although infected children of all ages tend to show less severe symptoms than adults do, and some may not show symptoms at all, but the indirect effects of the pandemic around the world may be disastrous for them with a significant increase in deaths and suffering”.

At-Tahtamouni indicated that "many child deaths worldwide may be attributed to the response to the pandemic; although these deaths may not be caused by the pandemic itself, but they are related to its role in hindering access to health services," noting that vaccine supplies around the world "are already at risk due to pandemic response measures and restrictions on transport, mostly affecting low-income countries”.

The lock down of all primary and comprehensive health centres for more than 50 days, in addition to the disruption of all primary preventive and medical services programs, and the restriction of medical appointments in hospitals to emergency cases admitted through the civil defence ambulances, led to overcrowded emergencies and delays in obtaining quality services, explained Al-Tahtamouni.

As a result of this closure, "the national vaccination program was stopped for more than 40 days, distribution of contraceptives was suspended, chronic diseases follow-ups were halted, in addition to the disruption of many healthcare  programs including pregnancy and postpartum healthcare and health awareness programs except those related to Corona”, Al-Tahtamouni said.

Jordan is one of the first countries in the world in terms of the coverage of its national vaccination program, with a coverage rate of 86%, but "this percentage decreased this year to 75%, with a decrease of 11%, which is quite high," added Al-Tahtamouni , pointing out the reduction in the number of hexavalent vaccine recipients from last March to May.

She also said that the closure of some hospitals or part of them and the infections among the health staff "led to delayed waiting time for requesting and obtaining health services, various health complications and a shortage of personnel and supplies needed to treat various diseases."

AL-Tahtamouni referred to the results of a rapid assessment carried out by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable categories in Jordan, which noted that children of 17% of families who are under the age of five did not receive the basic vaccination, and that 20% of families have reported an increase in the prices of basic medicines, while 39% of families confirmed their inability to purchase sterilization and personal hygiene supplies on a regular basis.

She called for exhibiting more pronounced needs for children and to give priority to primary health care programs that include child and maternal health programs, and to ensure their sustainability.

She also called for strengthening outreach mechanisms to enhance health and education awareness programs related to the prevention of and response to the Corona pandemic and its related illnesses and enhancing the mechanisms of community-based service delivery through mobile clinics, hotline service, and remote services.

For her part, Professor of Psychological and Educational Counselling in the Hashemite University, Dr. Suad Ghaith, presented a paper on the impact of social isolation on early childhood as a result of the Corona pandemic, referring to a World Health Organization study that showed that “77% of children found difficulty concentrating, while 39% of them suffered from anxiety and agitation, 38% suffered from nervousness, and 31% suffered from feelings of loneliness.

She indicated that the outbreak of Corona has changed the pillars on which modern societies are built, including "the interruption of children from school and kindergartens, and the suspension of many social and recreational activities in public places and parks, noting that the impact of absence from kindergartens and schools on children during the crisis "goes beyond the feeling of boredom  or loss of social contact, as it adversely affects their perceptual and cognitive abilities and feelings."

Ghaith warned against problems entailed by social isolation, which could "keep children glued to on-line devices and screens making them vulnerable to exploitation or content that is age-inappropriate or cognitively unsuitable for them."

On ways to reduce the effects of social isolation on children, Ghaith advised that “this falls directly on the family’s shoulders by detecting  any changes in the child's behaviour, sitting with children to explain the social circumstances associated with the Coronavirus, and attending to their inquiries and emotional status. ”

According to Ghaith, parents should design specific programs to engage in group activities with their children, and reassure them that “it is normal for them at this time to feel uneasy, anxious, bored or nostalgic for their friends, or even to have mixed feelings of fear, anxiety and anger, and that adults themselves have the same feeling.  They could explain to them how talking to their parents about those issues can help reduce their feeling of anxiety.”