With a majority of the adult population in Assam brought under the ambit of vaccination, with at least the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine administered among them, the most vulnerable population, as on date, are the children and adolescents below 18 years of age, for whom the Indian Council of Medical Research is yet to come out with a vaccine.
Earlier this month, Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta informed that over 36,000 children and adolescents below 18 years of age have been affected by the virus across two waves in the state so far.
Throwing caution to the wind, the Health Minister fervently appealed to parents and guardians to ensure that they do "become carriers of the virus and transmit the virus among their wards."
According to statistics issued by the National Health Mission, Assam last month, out of the 2.8 lakh Covid -positive cases between April 1 and June 26 this year, 34,606 fell in the under-18 age group. Of them, 34, mainly with comorbidities such as congenital diseases, have succumbed to the infection.
"While 5,755 children under five years of age tested positive, 28,851 infections were recorded in the six to 18 age group," a statement issued by NHM Assam said.
Children reportedly accounted for eight per cent of the total cases in the first wave in Assam. The figure has shot up to 12 per cent this year, a trend which NHM attributed to increased testing among children.
Out of the 2.8 lakh Covid -positive cases between April 1 and June 26 this year, 34,606 fell in the under-18 age group. Of them, 34, mainly with comorbidities such as congenital diseases, have succumbed to the infection.During phase three of the Assam Community Surveillance Programme, many children staying with Covid positive parents, who had opted for home isolation, subsequently tested positive.
As such, the Assam government has advised Covid -positive parents to opt for institutional quarantine instead of home quarantine to keep children protected against the virus.
Now, as the fear of a possible third wave of Covid-19 looms, the state government has embarked on the process to set up 320 paediatric ICUs in medical colleges and district hospitals of the state.
A United Nations policy brief: "The Impact of COVID-19 on Children" in April 2020, when the first wave swept many countries, had in fact stated that "Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims."
"There are three main channels through which children are affected by this crisis: infection with the virus itself; the immediate socioeconomic impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus and end the pandemic; and the potential longer-term effects of delayed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals," it stated.
Infections apart, experts say that isolation-triggered stress in a pandemic situation can also cause behavioural impairments in children. Prolonged isolation from society can induce neuro-immuno-endocrine changes during early life, which in turn may lead to neuropsychiatric outcomes in adulthood, a report stated.
According to UNICEF, at least one in seven children - "about 332 million children globally" - have lived under required or recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for at least nine months since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Such a situation has put the mental health and well-being of children at risk.