By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A group promoting children’s rights on Thursday called on local officials to ensure that protective measures are in place for children who may face discrimination and stigma when their parents or guardians test positive from COVID-19.
As key cities began mass testing for COVID-19 this week, Save the Children Philippines (SCP) expressed concern that children may be the target of discrimination once their parents or guardian test positive of the virus.
SCP Chief Executive Officer Atty. Alberto Muyot said a person’s health status—whether real or perceived—“should not be a basis for discrimination and mistreatment.”
Muyot, who is also a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), 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, SCP said, 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, SCP noted, 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,” Muyot explained, 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.”
Muyot noted 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, he added, 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,” Muyot explained. Thus, he noted that community guidelines must also integrate the specific needs of children with disabilities when their parents, guardians are tested positive for COVID-19.
Prior to the mass testing, SCP noted that cases of stigmatization of COVID-19 positive patients, their families, and health workers have been reported. 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 evicted from their rented homes, and a health worker who was prevented from leaving his house and been barricaded by the subdivision and barangay officials after a first COVID-19 patient was reported in the city.
Given this, Muyot called 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.”