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Impact of COVID-19 on children still under evaluation – WHO

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As partial re-opening of schools begins across the country this June for final year students, some apprehension is building around the safety of schools and the wellbeing of children.

Even more worrying is what is going to finally happen when all the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and all categories of school children from crèche to lower and upper classes return to school.

Although some studies are taking place around the globe on the spread and impact of the coronavirus on the pediatric population, there is however very little regular data coming in from Ghana and other parts of the world on children and how the virus is playing out on them.

Amid some of these concerns about whether children can spread the virus to infect other people, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said this is “one of the living reviews we are working on.”

“We are tracking all studies that are evaluating infection in children, the global body said in a statement made available to ghanabusinessnews.com.

There is little information on the COVID-19 morbidity and mortality figures among children and also information targeting how to keep children safe while at home, the neighbourhood and areas where they hangout.

It is not uncommon to see children as young as eight or 10 years moving around communities and public spaces selling various items from sachet water to fruits and vegetables without wearing face masks while adults accompanying these children don on their masks.

Even worse are parents and other adults who send children as young as three or four years on errands to buy food for breakfast with these children having to exchange monies with different food vendors in the neighbourhood.

“At this stage, we need more case reports to understand what role children are playing in the transmission of the disease and this is what we are trying to do through our epidemiology studies, which include infection in children,” the WHO noted in the statement.

“Overwhelmingly the findings show that children seem to be less affected, amounting three per cent of all reported cases globally, and those who are infected and detected through surveillance system, have mild disease and recover.”

It said: “We have seen to a much lesser extent transmission from children to adults being documented in certain household studies, but we currently don’t see this trend in the epidemiology.”

The global body explained that it has received reports from Europe and North America describing a small number of cases of children “being admitted to intensive care units with a multi-system inflammatory condition with some features similar to Kawasaki’s disease and toxic shock syndrome.”

“These cases remain rare and we still need more data to understand whether they are related to COVID-19, as some children affected did not test positive for the virus.”

“It is critical to urgently and carefully characterise this clinical syndrome, to understand causality and to describe treatment interventions,” the statement added.

The WHO added that: “We raised the alarm through our global clinical network for COVID-19 and asked our pediatricians to collect more information on these cases. We developed a preliminary case definition and a case report form to help them to collect data in a standardized way.”

“We call on all clinicians worldwide to work with their national authorities and WHO to be on the alert and better understand this syndrome in children,” it added.

The WHO has done further work to throw more light on the virus and children in a scientific brief titled: “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and adolescents temporally related to COVID-19.”

The brief includes a preliminary case definition reflecting the clinical and laboratory features observed in children reported to date, and serves to identify suspected or confirmed cases both for the purpose of providing treatment and for provisional reporting and surveillance.

The document stated that as of May 15, 2020, more than four million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including more than 285 000 deaths were reported to WHO and the “risk of severe disease and death has been highest in older people and in persons with underlying non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, cardiac disease, chronic lung disease and cancer.”

According to the brief: “Limited data describe clinical manifestations of COVID-19 that are generally milder in children compared to adults but also show that some children do require hospitalization and intensive care.”

It said relatively few cases of infants confirmed to have COVID-19 have been reported; those who are infected have experienced mild illness.”

It added that: “Robust evidence associating underlying conditions with severe illness in children is still lacking.”

“Among 345 children with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and complete information about underlying conditions, 23 per cent had an underlying condition, with chronic lung disease (including asthma), cardiovascular disease, and immunosuppression most commonly reported.”

Meanwhile, various international news outlets are also putting out information on the pandemic and pediatric populations.

The ABC News outlet in a recent publication said even as scientists race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, experts acknowledge that children could be among the last members of society to be vaccinated.

“At least 10 vaccines are being tested in people across the globe, with the United States’ top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, optimistically estimating we could have a viable vaccine by early 2021. While preliminary data on these vaccines has been encouraging, children have been excluded from early studies,” the news report stated.

It said other vaccine experts interviewed said studies among children could take much longer to complete.

The Reuters news service also carried similar issues on COVID-19 and children and reported on a Dutch coronavirus study indicating that children are not big spreaders of the virus.

The news report stated that a study by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Health (RIVM), which has been published has concluded that children under the age of 12 play little role in transmitting the new coronavirus.

It said the study in the country’s leading medical journal Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde followed the progress of the disease in 54 families, including 227 people in all.

“Yes, children can become infected, but transmission takes place primarily between adults of similar age, and from adults to children,” the study said in its conclusion.

The report however noted that a possible weakness in the study is that the families studied may not have been representative of the wider Dutch population.

By Eunice Menka

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