The head of the World Health Organization's Europe office said the agency is deeply troubled by reports of increasing domestic violence against women, men and children in countries including Belgium, Britain, France, Russia, Spain and others amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge said that although data were scarce, countries across Europe are reporting up to 60% of women are suffering domestic violence, noting that calls to help hotlines have jumped about five times.
He warned that continued restrictive measures needed to suppress Covid-19 could have a devastating impact on vulnerable women and children.
If lockdowns were to continue for six months, we would expect an extra 31 million cases of gender-based violence globally, Kluge said, citing data from the UN Population Fund. Evidence shows that interpersonal violence increases during every type of emergency, he said.
Kluge said authorities should consider it a moral obligation to ensure help services are available to communities.
He said that some countries have already responded to the emerging crisis, noting Italy's development of an app where people can request help without making a phone call, and programs in Spain and France where pharmacists can be alerted to problems by people using code words.
Kluge said the reported numbers were still only a small measure of the actual problem since people suffering from abuse often decline to report it.