Saint Lucia recorded its first confirmed case of the Coronavirus on March 13, 2020. Since then the government has been proactive in managing the spread of the virus. However, the closure of borders, suspension of business activity and restrictions in the movement of persons have had a significant social and economic impact on families. The effect has been even more pronounced on those already classified as most vulnerable: single-parent and female-headed households; children, especially those with disabilities and those without adequate parental care.
Velda Joseph, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Local Government and Empowerment well knows the detrimental effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on poor and vulnerable households:
“Since the start of the pandemic, the number of vulnerable households has increased significantly. In response, the Ministry of Equity continues to explore options and find ways to continue providing assistance to the most vulnerable. The provision of hygiene kits to children with disabilities and children in foster care will not only help to protect them from contracting COVID-19 but will also allow for the limited financial resources of the household to be used on other items that are also needed.
Further, initiatives such as this one form part of a wider reform of the social protection system being undertaken by the Government of Saint Lucia to enhance the quality of life of citizens. We are pleased to be partnering with UNICEF and other development partners in support of those most in need among us.”
The hygiene and care kits include soap, hand sanitizer, wipes, masks, baby products and flyers providing child-friendly guidance on proper mask-wearing and hand-washing techniques. Also provided in each package, are instructions for accessing mental health and psychosocial support. This is made available through a virtual platform run by Eutelmed, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and organised by UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The support provided forms part of a wider cooperation programme between the government of Saint Lucia and the United Nations. The kits were distributed in tandem with recent cash top-ups for vulnerable persons, including families of children accessing the Child Disability Grant and children in foster care. For three months, recipients have benefited from a 50% increase in their usual assistance. This expansion of cash-based assistance was made possible with technical and financial support from the SDG Fund Joint Programme in Social Protection in the Eastern Caribbean, which draws on the expertise of 5 UN organisations.
Under the Joint Programme US$4.75 million has been provided to assist the Governments of Saint Lucia, Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in strengthening their social protection systems, ensuring access to people in need during times of crisis. This initiative is part of global UN Reform efforts, being undertaken by the Sub-Regional Team for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator Office, to increase inter-agency collaboration for a more efficient joint response to the emerging needs of vulnerable persons.
Participating UN Organisations include UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
According to Aloys Kamuragiye, Representative of the UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Area Office:
“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on children and their families globally; our region is no different. Through coordinated and concerted action, such as the expansion of cash-based social protection programmes combined with care support – “Cash Plus” – we can mitigate the socio-economic impacts of this crisis on the most vulnerable. UNICEF, and its UN partners, stand committed to continuing and expanding the partnership with the Government of Saint Lucia, in strengthening the nation’s social protection systems to respond to the pandemic and future shocks.”
This cash and care support has benefitted over 500 Saint Lucian families, playing a vital role in reducing the burden on vulnerable children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo caption: Ms. Michelle Edwide, Welfare Officer, Vieux Fort (L) presenting a hygiene kit to a family coping with disabilities.