The COVID-19 pandemic has hit education systems hard. It is estimated that approximately 1.6 billion children worldwide are affected by school closures, which have a significant impact on their learning. In Catalonia, one of the measures to control the spread of this virus is the confinement of class groups when a positive case of COVID-19 is found.
Now, a study carried out by the University of Barcelona found that, in the academic year 2020-2021, the risk of closing public schools is higher in the poor districts of Barcelona. Given these results, researchers emphasize the need to consider socioeconomic inequalities in the design of public policies for future pandemics or similar health crises.
“The link between a low socioeconomic level and a poor health status explains these results, and if this vicious circle is not broken, local health problems will continue and may worsen in future pandemics or future health emergencies cannot ignore the problems of health equity, and it requires a coordinated and transdisciplinary work between different areas such as social services, housing , education and urbanism, etc.,” said Maria Grau, coordinator of the study published in The Journal of Public Healthand professor of Serra Hunter in the Department of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of UB, researcher at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) and member of the Biomedical Research Networking Center for Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP) ).
The study, carried out in collaboration with professionals from the Catalan Institute of Health, was also signed by researchers of the same Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Carles Pericas, Gülcan Avcii, Diana Toledo and Carles Vilaplana, as well as Professor Àngela Domínguez.
Six times more likely to close in Ciutat Vella than in Sant Gervasi
The study is based on data from the Department of Education of primary education public schools in Barcelona, from September 2020—the beginning of the academic year after the first COVID-19 outbreak—until February 2022, when the regulation of the school confinement.
The researchers counted, by district, the number of children who were alone or quarantined and the number of days each child stayed home due to confinement in the school classroom. Then, this information is compared to the average income of each district, which is obtained from the per capita disposable income of the family, an index that measures the income of the residents of a territory for consumption or savings.
The results of the academic year 2020–2021 show a “sustained and significant” upward trend in the risk of closing a classroom in low-income districts, to the extent that the tendency of Ciutat Vella, the poorest district, is six times higher than Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, the richest. “Therefore, children in areas with lower average annual income have a greater risk of being locked up in the classroom,” said Pericas, the first author of the study.
The pandemic, a cause of inequality
Given the results, the study highlights the importance of learning from the experience of the pandemic and changing public policies to deal with similar situations. “Any future public health measure, whether in the context of a pandemic or a specific transferable disease prevention measure, must be approached taking into account these inequalities and with an understanding of what can amplify them ,” they said.
Along these lines, the researchers noted that “it is necessary to understand that the health impact of COVID-19 is not the result of morbidity and mortality directly related to the infection, but the pandemic also acts as a cause of all the previous are not equal. and it increases the synergies between them, besides increasing its effects: the more vulnerable an individual or population, the worse the health outcomes they get.”
Guaranteeing access to canteen services and promoting health literacy
An example of this link between disease and inequality is the fact that school closures lead to the end of important services in educational centers, such as canteen services or mental health support programs , which, as the researchers say, “may have. a negative impact on the health of many poor children and students.”
Therefore, according to the new study, in future situations that require school confinement measures, access to complementary services offered by schools must be guaranteed, as well as the fairness of access to those virtual learning session. “The initial shift to exclusive online formats at the start of the pandemic led to unequal access to new technologies and led to the loss of education for students from low-income families,” the researcher says.
Finally, researchers emphasize the need to improve citizens’ health literacy, to “enhance appropriate decision-making, which will help reduce the risk of spreading infections and increase understanding and adherence to preventive measures of illness.”
A change in contagion patterns in the academic year 2021–2022
The analysis of the academic year 2021-2022 data did not find a relationship between the detentions and the socioeconomic indicators of the districts. Infections in this second stage are caused by the delta and omicron variants, which are highly contagious but cause only mild symptoms or no symptoms in many cases. “Incidents from the summer of 2021 to early 2022 have reached unprecedented levels and created unexpected changes in infection patterns,” Pericas said.
In this sense, the UB researcher thinks that the reason for the differences between the two periods is mainly “the great protective effect of previous infections in the poorest communities,” which suffered the most of infections in the early stages of the pandemic.
Carles Pericas et al, Risk of partial school closure for COVID-19 by socio-economic level in the period 2020–22, Journal of Public Health (2023). DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdad084
Given by the University of Barcelona
Citation: Inequality and COVID-19: The poorest districts of Barcelona most affected by school closures during the pandemic (2023, July 17) retrieved 19 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07 -inequality-covid-barcelona-poorest-districts.html
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