September 17: The COVID-19 pandemic threatens hard-won gains in health and education over the past decade, especially in the poorest countries, a new World Bank Group analysis finds.
Investments in human capital—the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives—are key to unlocking a child’s potential and to improving economic growth in every country, World Bank said in a statement.
The World Bank Group’s 2020 Human Capital Index shows that most countries had made steady progress in building human capital of children, with the biggest strides made in low-income countries before the pandemic.
“Investment in human capital is just as important as investment in infrastructure, if not more, and brings returns in the form of a healthier and more productive workforce in the long run,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank’s country director for the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “There is a need for an accelerated push to focus on investing in human capital in the recovery and rebuilding phases after the pandemic. This requires close collaborations among all three levels of the government in order to bring about large and sustainable changes.”
Due to the pandemic's impact, most children – more than 1 billion – have been out of school and could lose, on average, half a year of schooling, translating into considerable monetary losses in the future, according to the World Bank. Data also shows significant disruptions to essential health services for women and children, with many children missing out on crucial vaccinations. The economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly deep for women and for the most disadvantaged families, leaving many vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.
The 2020 Human Capital Index includes health and education data up to March 2020 for 174 countries covering 98 percent of the world’s population, providing a pre-pandemic baseline on the health and education status of children.
Today, hard-won human capital gains in many countries are at risk. But countries can do more than just work to recover the lost ground. To protect and extend earlier human capital gains, countries need to expand health service coverage and quality among marginalized communities, boost learning outcomes together with school enrollments, and support vulnerable families with social protection measures adapted to the scale of the COVID-19 crisis, the statement further said.
In Nepal, it is essential to invest more in the early years, with a focus on those children who have been left behind. This includes safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets and providing opportunities for learning and stimulation especially for the poorest and most-affected households. Given the current high cost of medical care, resources can be refocused towards ensuring universal access to quality essential primary, emergency and referral health services.
The World Bank Group said it is working closely with governments to develop long-term solutions to protect and invest in people during and after the pandemic. In Nepal, the Bank is supporting the development of school safety and hygiene protocols while working with WASH teams to provide basic sanitization and hygiene supplies. The Bank is helping strengthen government systems and expand coverage of social security allowances and civil registration to support vulnerable communities. The Bank is also supporting the government to strengthen health systems and security and improve the health financing landscape of the country.