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Worst child illiteracy looms in Nigeria, others over COVID-19

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Virus creates $6.2b education spending gap in sub-Saharan Africa
• Experts fear an imminent surge in infant, maternal mortalities

Mass dropping out of school by kids in nine African countries, including Nigeria, is imminent going by a report released yesterday by the Save the Children International.

In the document, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a fresh gap of $6.2 billion in education investment in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next 18 months.

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The rights group warned that the deficit could be as high as $77 billion globally if actions are not taken urgently to reverse the trend.

It noted that the huge education budget cuts, coupled with the pervasive poverty inflicted by the virus, could force millions of children out of school forever in addition to millions of others already behind in learning.

“Girls are likely to be worst affected, with many forced into child marriages. As the impacts of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hit families, many children may be forced out of school, and into the labour markets,” the global agency asserted.

To check this global education emergency, it called on governments and donors to invest seriously in the sector, as schools move to reopen after months of lockdown.

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The organisation also urged commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income nations, a move that could free up $14 billion for education expenditure, just as it sought increased funding, with $35 billion to be granted by the World Bank.

“National governments must make education a priority by producing and implementing COVID-19 education responses and recovery plans to ensure the most marginalised children are able to continue learning,” it advised.

Prior to the outbreak, 258 million kids and adolescents were out of school.

In her remarks, Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria, Mercy Gichuhi said: “Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Nigeria is estimated to have over 10 million out-of-school children, one of the highest rates in the world.”

Also, the group’s Pan African Advocacy and Campaign Director, Eric Hazard, commended efforts by governments so far in ensuring children continue their education in these uncertain times through virtual learning and innovative ways like interactive radio and television.

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Also yesterday, experts at a webinar forum raised the alarm over a potential increase in maternal, newborn, child and pregnancy-related deaths owing to the much attention given to the containment of the novel coronavirus in the country.

Admitting that there were other socio-economic challenges facing the most populous black nation, which also needed attention, they, however, stressed that the non-prioritisation of family planning and issues concerning population growth by government and its agencies had triggered more maternal and child mortalities nationwide.

They bared their minds yesterday at the close of a one-week online workshop for Nigerian health reporters and features writers, organised by Rotary Action Group for Reproductive, Maternal, and Child Health (RMCH) in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Society Of Gynaecology and Obstetrics Of Nigeria.

According to the statistics provided at the training, there are about 180–200 million pregnancies globally every year, with 303,000 maternal deaths per minute.

Sadly, Nigeria contributes about 58,000 (19 per cent) of the global casualties.

In her presentation, the Director, Department of Family Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo, stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was contributing largely to infant and maternal morbidity and mortality in the country.

She added that the development had negatively affected the implementation of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition- (RMNCAH+N) across the federation.

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