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The COVID19 crisis has taken a staggering toll on people, communities and economies everywhere. Yet not everyone is affected equally, and as we so often see, women and girls tend to suffer most. The impact of COVID-19 may be especially overwhelming in countries such as Serbia with significant share of older people. It is estimated that in Serbia, every fifth person is older than 65.

For the occasion of the World Population Day, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Serbia organized a virtual panel discussion today hosting Prof. dr Slavica Djukic Dejanovic , Minister without portfolio in charge of demography and population policy, John Kennedy Mosoti, UNFPA Director for Serbia, Francine Pickup, UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia, Jelena Hrnjak Programme Manager at NGO Atina and Dragan Stanojevic, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy.

Globally and in Serbia, women account for the largest share of front-line health workers (over 70%), making them disproportionately exposed to the coronavirus. For many women, home isolation means more burden at home, which makes household labor division even more unequal. Sexual and reproductive health services may be impaired during pandemics. Moreover, women and girls may be at higher risk of intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence due to increased tensions in the household. Three to five times more calls were reported to SOS lines and specialized CSOs in Serbia by end of April.

"Last November, Serbia was among over 170 delegations in Nairobi that committed to improve lives of women and girls. Nairobi Summit put a very ambitious agenda on all of us, and COVID19 pandemic presents us with new, unprecedented challenges...they are however not insummountable”- says John Kennedy Mosoti, UNFPA Director for Serbia.

Older persons staying in isolation for prolonged periods of time are at the risk of suffering mental health issues that can have adverse effects to their physical health as well. Research on psychological effects of isolation and quarantine has shown multiple negative effects such as fear, nervousness, sadness, and guilt, which, in the post-isolation period may result in anger, confusion and anxiety. Less visible but very important are the broader effects: health care denied for conditions unrelated to COVID-19; neglect or abuse; an increase in poverty and unemployment; the dramatic impact on well-being and mental health; and the trauma of stigma and discrimination.

Minister Djukic Dejanovic stressed that Serbia was faced with similar challenges as other European countries having in mind the significant proportion of older people in general population.

"In addition to older people, pandemics showed that interventions targeting marginalized groups such as people and families living in poverty, persons with disabilities need to be strengthened. We need to continue working on the fulfilment of our Nairobi commitments even now, such as implementation of the National SRH Programme, National Pronatalist and National Youth Strategies as well as also to tighten surveillance when it comes to domestic and gender based violence”- adds Minister Djukic Dejanovic.

Participants spoke about effects of the COVID19 pandemics, on greater men engagement in families in Serbia, international migrations, depopulation and opportunities to use innovative digital solutions in situations like this.

"It is important to create platforms and opportunities where older people can say what bothers them the most and make their voices heard in preparedness and response to a crisis in which they are the most affected”- says Mosoti.