UNICEF has been supporting Serbia to respond to the various challenges caused by the pandemic in the areas of health, education and protection
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, more than 230 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 4.5 million confirmed deaths up to September 2021, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history. The first known COVID-19-related death in Serbia was registered in March 2020.
UNICEF has been supporting Serbia to respond to the various challenges caused by the pandemic in the areas of health, education and protection, to prepare for further community transmission, and to mitigate the social and economic impact of the emergency.
Programme Area Goals
- 19 is delivered in continuity and with maintained quality.
- WASH: Most vulnerable populations are provided with critical hygiene supplies to mitigate infection risks.
- Education: E-learning system for education is developed/strengthened and the digital divide of vulnerable children is bridged.
- Child protection: Social welfare system capacities are strengthened for sustained protection of disadvantaged children and families.
- Social protection interventions: Most vulnerable populations are supported with additional cash transfers.
- Communication: The public is well-informed on prevention measures and infection risks.
COVID response plan for 2021 Target
To support COVID-19 prevention and impact mitigation in 2021, our goal is to:
- Ensure 40,000 children and women receive essential health care through UNICEF-supported community health workers and health facilities.
- Support 880,000 children in accessing formal or non-formal education, including early learning.
- Provide 54,000 parents and caregivers with community-based mental health and psychosocial support.
- Support 2,000 households affected by COVID-19 with humanitarian cash grant for basic needs.
The Government has implemented measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the most vulnerable populations. However, data indicate that many households have sustained a significant shock as a result of the crisis, and that some groups have not benefited from the mitigation measures.
As expected, the health system was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant portion of health system resources were redirected towards early detection and treatment of COVID-19 infection. This has also, to some extent, affected the continuity of health care of mothers and children.
The initial wave of the COVID-19 crisis put additional strain on the social/child protection system, including Centres for Social Work, day-care and residential care facilities.
Schools were closed and the entire education system shifted to remote teaching and learning during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Distance learning was provided in Serbian and eight minority languages, and additional instructions were provided on education for children with disabilities.
These changes widened the existing digital divide in the country. While most children were able to follow distance learning modalities, some children and adolescents from vulnerable groups, children with disabilities and those living in residential institutions were unable to participate in any form of distance learning. The main challenges were related to access to ICT equipment and internet connectivity, but also to the digital competences of teachers, students and parents and the stress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty.
The situation improved after the lockdown, but remained challenging throughout the year, with blended learning modalities applied in most schools.
UNICEF’s COVID-19 response plan includes measures for prevention and for impact mitigation, including in following priority areas:
- Health and nutrition: UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health, health institutions and professional associations to ensure continuity and quality of maternal, newborn and child health care during the pandemic, with a focus on perinatal care, immunizations and child development.
- WASH efforts focus on providing critical hygiene supplies to the most vulnerable population and supporting dissemination of WASH communication materials.
- UNICEF provides continuous support to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development to develop/strengthen an e-learning system and bridge the digital divide with interventions specifically targeting vulnerable children.
- Child protection focuses on strengthening social welfare system capacities for sustained protection of disadvantaged children and families and ensuring that children in need are protected from violence and provided with mental health and psychosocial support, counselling and rehabilitation support.
- Social protection interventions continue to generate evidence to monitor the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on families with children and continue to provide humanitarian cash transfers to the most vulnerable populations.
- Public information on prevention measures and risk communication are used to increase awareness of the risks and infection prevention behaviour, including via public and social media.