The Covid-19 pandemic threatens hard-won gains in the health and education of Lao children, who could lose half a year of schooling on average, a new World Bank Group analysis has found.
The analysis shows that pre-pandemic Laos and most nations around the world had made steady progress in building the human capital of children, with the biggest strides made in low-income countries.
Due to the pandemic’s impact, more than one billion children globally, have been out of school and could lose, on average, half a year of schooling.
For Laos, the figure is 46 per cent, reflecting difficulties in providing health and education services, with the measles vaccination coverage dropping from 83 per cent to 40 per cent from the end of last year to May this year.
In Laos, girls have a higher human capital outcome than boys in six of the seven indicators.
However, worldwide, this has not translated into comparable opportunities to use human capital in the labour market – average employment rates are 20 per cent lower for women than for men, with a wider gap in many countries and regions.
The 2020 Human Capital Index presented human capital outcomes from 2010 to 2020 and found a Lao child who started school at age four can expect to complete 10.6 years of school by her 18th birthday and that outcomes for girls are on average higher than for boys.
The index also revealed that factoring in what children learn, the expected time at school is only 6.3 years, 82 per cent of 15-year-olds in Laos will survive until age 60, and 33 per cent of Lao children are stunted and so are at risk of cognitive and physical limitations that can last a lifetime.
These statistics are based on the health risks that a child born today would experience as an adult under current conditions.
The Covid-19 pandemic means that human capital gains made in many countries over recent years are at risk.
To protect and extend earlier gains, governments need to expand health service coverage and quality among marginalised communities, boost learning outcomes together with school enrolments and support vulnerable families with social protection measures.
The World Bank Group is working closely with governments to develop long-term solutions to protect and invest in people during and after the pandemic.
In April, the World Bank and Lao government agreed on a $18 million project to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by Covid-19 and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness.
Separate projects are working with the Lao health, education and small business sectors to aid recovery from the pandemic.
Ambitious, evidence-driven policy measures in health, education and social protection can recover lost ground and pave the way for today’s children to surpass the human capital achievements and quality of life of the generations that preceded them.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK