UNICEF responds to the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe and Central Asia

We are appealing for $133 million to shield vulnerable children and their families in the region from the worst impact of the pandemic.


UNICEF is moving fast to support children, adolescents and families as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the Europe and Central Asia Region. Our goal is to get the entire region working together as one for all children, particularly those who are already vulnerable to any crisis.

Current situation

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children goes far beyond any health risks. Across the Europe and Central Asia region, everyday services essential for their safety and well-being – from ante-natal care and home visits for new parents, to child protection and, of course, education – are grinding to a halt as entire populations go into lockdown.

For millions of children and their families, this is a time of anxiety and uncertainty. And for those children who were vulnerable before this crisis, the pandemic seems certain to heighten the risks they already faced. They include children from the poorest families, children with disabilities, those from ethnic minorities and refugee and migrant children – particularly those who are unaccompanied or separated from their families.

The pressures on families are immense. With schools closed, and home-based quarantine now the ‘new normal’, parents have become frontline responders to the COVID-19 pandemic. They need comprehensive support to safeguard their children’s health, wellbeing and development.


On 6 March 2020, a boy sits next to a car in the Reception and Identification Centre at Vathi, on the island of Samos, in Greece.
On 6 March 2020, a boy sits next to a car in the Reception and Identification Centre at Vathi, on the island of Samos, in Greece.

The potential impact of COVID-19

The economic damage caused by COVID-19 will be immense and long-lasting, with estimates suggesting that an additional 33 million people – half of them children – could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic. Children in the Europe and Central Asia Region, like children elsewhere, now face the devastating and potentially life-long impact of child poverty.

While with the poorest children become poorer as a result of the pandemic, the isolation of children with disabilities, children in institutional care, refugee and migrant children, and children from minority communities is likely to intensify.  Some families may lack access to life-saving information in their own language on how to protect themselves from infection or what to do if they have symptoms. There are also concerns about children whose parents or caregivers fall ill, as well as families who depend on the functioning of social assistance offices.

"Children now face the devastating and potentially life-long impact of child poverty."

In Greece, Italy and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation of refugee and migrant children, especially those who are unaccompanied, is already a grave concern – and the global pandemic makes a difficult situation even worse. These children, and many other children living in overcrowded spaces around the Region, will struggle to practice social distancing. And those who have no soap, clean water or proper toilet facilities will struggle to follow the guidance on hygiene and hand-washing.

For millions of families across the Region, the stresses caused by lockdowns, uncertainty and lost earnings pose real threats, including a predictable surge in gender-based violence (GBV) and child marriage.

UNICEF's response

UNICEF is mobilising every resource to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the Europe and Central Asia Region and protect vulnerable children against the impact of the pandemic. We are building on initiatives that are already in place to safeguard their health, education, protection and participation, as well as the shared knowledge gained from long-term partnerships and new, innovative approaches.

UNICEF is working with Governments, UN agencies and NGO partners to mount a child-focused response to the pandemic. Our joint aim is to stop COVID-19 transmission, ease the wider impact on families and keep vital services going, particularly for the most vulnerable children and adolescents.

We are helping governments to procure life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene kits, soap, disinfectant, ventilators and other medical supplies. Despite global market constraints, UNICEF has made preliminary deliveries to most countries in the Europe and Central Asia Region, with more orders pending. In Greece, UNICEF is providing tents as temporary facilities where the National Public Health Organization can conduct checks and care for COVID-19 patients. In Montenegro, UNICEF and UNDP have supported national health authorities in equipping and furnishing two quarantine centres.

Working with Ministries of Education, we have mobilized our existing support for education, as well as digital platforms and media partnerships, to introduce distance learning for all languages and ages in at least 16 countries. In Bulgaria and Montenegro, for example, we work to reach Roma minority children and children with disabilities, in particular. In Greece, we provide non-formal education to refugee and migrant children and families. In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, we support tools for children with disabilities and from ethnic minorities that feature sign language and multiple-language subtitles. And print and digital resources for hard-pressed parents and caregivers help them to support their children during this crisis through the #LearningAtHome toolkit, for example, which provides daily activities and tips.

North Macedonia
On 24 March 2020, Kaja follows the TV-classroom programme broadcast on national television in North Macedonia.

Our support includes efforts to reach children and adolescents from Roma, refugee and other high-risk communities who may not have equal access to technology-based solutions. In Turkey, teachers are being supported to provide guidance each day on the phone for parents and caregivers who do not have access to the internet.

Messages on COVID-19 safety, protection, positive parenting, and being of service to others have reached hundreds of thousands of children, parents and other audiences through multilingual materials, including video and social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp) and through innovative, interactive platforms such as U-Report information polls and an AI chatbot https://healthbuddy.info/ (more information here). These build on UNICEF-supported U-Report and RapidPro platforms that already connect young people in the Region, mobilizing their energy and amplifying their voices

Young people’s voices from across the Region

Traditional media are also helping to reach those who lack digital access, with hundreds of thousands of traditional print material (posters, leaflets etc.) complementing web-based, multi-language initiatives.

COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of daily life for millions of children and their families. Given the impact of family stress and disruption, UNICEF is supporting child protection systems across the Region. In the Western Balkans, for example, we aim to help children report abuse and violence, backed by psychosocial support and the construction of shelters for the most high-risk children. In Italy, we are working with refugees and migrants to ensure that very vulnerable young men and women, and families with small children who remain outside the formal reception system can access emergency shelter and cash assistance. And in conflict-affected Eastern Ukraine, mobile GBV prevention teams have been adapted to provide advice online, with emergency visits available when required.

To respond to the devastating socioeconomic consequences for children and families, we are supporting governments across the Region to expand, adjust, and strengthen their social protection programmes. In Albania, we support municipal social protection mechanisms that provide temporary support to help families withstand the impact of physical distancing on their livelihoods. In Tajikistan, we are exploring how emergency cash support can better reach households through the government’s social protection systems. We are appealing for $133 million for the Europe and Central Asia Region to expand our work as part of UNICEF’s Global Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) for COVID-19 response. Against this target, the Region has already received $15 million (11%) in funding from key donors.

The appeal will enable UNICEF to ramp up its existing work to support national efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, while mitigating the impacts on children and their families. This will include: 

  • Providing protective, life-saving health and hygiene supplies for facilities, health and social care workers and affected communities
  • Supporting continued access to essential healthcare, immunization and nutrition services for women, children and vulnerable communities
  • Intensifying and expanding communication and engagement with communities on infection prevention and safety in the home through social and multimedia, reaching children, adolescents and parents, and recognizing the role of young people as key conveyors
  • Ensuing continuing education through distance learning for pre- and school-age children, using internet-based technology, TV broadcasts and innovative social media challenges
  • Supporting mental health, psychosocial assistance and GBV prevention for children and caregivers through online platforms
  • Supporting evidence-based strategies to strengthen social protection programming and reinforce safety nets for children most at risk in the face of unprecedented economic downturn in the Region
  • Ensuring global and regional coordination, and effective data collection on the impact of the pandemic on children in Europe and Central Asia.

Detailed situation reports

Responding to COVID-19. Behaviour and social change resource materials

A series of resource materials, tips and messages aiming at promoting protective behaviours, managing stress, dealing with children, and reducing stigma and discrimination. They are intended to help development of tailored communication tools for young people/adolescents, general public, parents, and frontline responders.