The region’s countries must safeguard and strengthen the rights of all people in the post-pandemic reconstruction scenario, and address and respond to the various – and often overlapping – situations of disadvantage and vulnerability that affect their health and their quality of life, a new report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) contends upon analyzing COVID-19’s deep and multiple effects on distinct population groups in the region.
The document entitled The sociodemographic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean includes policy recommendations aimed at social and economic recovery and transformation, in light of the priority measures contained within the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development and the Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The report will be presented to countries during the Fourth Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development, which will be held on June 28-30, 2022 at ECLAC’s headquarters in Santiago, Chile and where high-level representatives of government, international organizations, the private sector, academia and civil society will debate the challenges that the health crisis poses for implementation of the Montevideo Consensus.
Two years after the pandemic was first declared, Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for a total of 1.7 million reported COVID-19 deaths (as of May 2022). This represents 27.2% of all COVID-19 deaths in the world, even though the region’s population represents just 8.4% of the global population.
The document addresses the adversities that the pandemic has entailed for women and distinct population groups, in particular: children, adolescents and youth, older persons, international migrants, indigenous peoples, Afrodescendent populations and people with disabilities.
It states that the crisis has affected women’s employment to a greater extent than men’s. The labor force participation rate of women experienced a setback of 18 years due to the crisis, dropping from 51.8% in 2019 to 47.7% in 2020, while for men it fell from 75.5% to 70.8% in the same period. In 2022, it is estimated that women’s participation rate will have risen to 51.3%, a figure similar to what was seen in 2018. This represents a four-year setback, which still leaves one out of every two women of working age outside the labor market.
In the case of children and adolescents, the pandemic brought with it the closure of educational centers, the postponement and suspension of regular health check-ups, as well as disruptions in feeding programs, which generated risks of setbacks in the fight against child undernutrition in some countries. With regard to sexual and reproductive health, the reorientation of monetary and human resources to containing and tackling the health emergency left this dimension of health untended, along with others.
The mental health of children and adolescents was also affected by various aspects of the pandemic that range from the impact of health measures for quarantine and confinement to the experience of traumatic events, such as the loss of their fathers, mothers or caregivers. On this last point, the report indicates that in five countries of Latin America, it is estimated that between March 2020 and April 2021, 380,000 cases of orphanhood were recorded, which rises to more than 600,000 upon including minors who lost primary or secondary caregivers. In fact, Latin America has the world’s highest rate of orphanhood owing to COVID-19.
According to the document’s estimates, 57.7 million people belonging to one of the more than 800 indigenous peoples existing in the region inhabit 17 countries of Latin America-Abya Yala, a figure that represents around 9.5% of the total population.
The report emphasizes that, despite multiple data confirming their greater vulnerability, state responses aimed at mitigating the pandemic’s social and health impacts among indigenous peoples have been weak and fragmentary. With regard to health, 16 of the 17 countries of Latin America-Abya Yala in which indigenous peoples live set specific standards or technical guidelines for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic among these peoples.
In the case of Afrodescendent people and communities, the report stresses that the pandemic has had a differential effect on them, violating many of their rights and increasing inequality and the incidence of racism and discrimination.
The document further warns that, in a context of economic and health crisis, migration – both outside and inside the region – has not stopped. In countries such as Chile and Colombia, in 2020 the pandemic prompted a deceleration in the growth of migration, which had been occurring since 2017, and even a slight decline in the number of migrant persons. However, current regional migration processes are marked by rising complexity, accompanied by increasing irregularity and vulnerability, it states.
In that sense, it emphasizes that with more than 40 million migrants in the region, it is imperative to have effective mechanisms for safe, orderly and regular migration.
The report dedicates a special chapter to reviewing the sociodemographic impacts of COVID-19 in the Caribbean, which merits a focused analysis given the subregion’s specificities and particularities, whether in relation to the high disease burden attributable to noncommunicable diseases or vaccine hesitancy.
Finally, it presents a series of conclusions and recommendations for achieving a transformative recovery with equality in the framework of the priority measures of the Montevideo Consensus. In this framework, it is essential that the protection of rights and the promotion of the well-being of individuals, families and communities be placed at the center of public policy response efforts.
Moreover, it underlines the importance of having robust, timely and resilient national statistical systems, capable of providing timely, accurate and disaggregated data for monitoring the effects of COVID-19 and defining plans of action, both on a national and local scale. It is particularly necessary to strengthen vital statistics and ensure the successful implementation of population and housing censuses.