As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to weaken the health systems and disrupt routine services due to lockdowns, curfews, transport disruptions, fear of infections in the community, an estimated 4,000 children aged below five could lose their life in Nepal alone over the next six months, the UNICEF said.
An analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly published in The Lancet Global Health journal, based on the worst of three scenarios (in 118 low and middle-income countries estimates that 1.2 million deaths could occur globally in just six months.
In South Asia, an additional 2,400 children could die every day from the causes over the next six months in South Asia. The researchers estimate that up to 300,000 children could die in India alone; 95,000 in Pakistan, 28,000 in Bangladesh, 13,000 in Afghanistan, and 4,000 in Nepal.
“We fear that the number of children dying before their fifth birthdays is going to increase for the first time in decades,” said UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough. “We must protect the mothers, the pregnant women and children in South Asia at all cost. Fighting the pandemic is critical but we cannot lose momentum on the decades of progress we have made in the region to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths.”
“It is crucial that childbirth, child health and nutrition services remain available for families during the time of COVID-19,” said UNICEF Regional Health Adviser for South Asia Paul Rutter. “It would be terrible to see a situation in which many thousands of children die, not because of the virus itself but because routine services are disrupted.”
The paper analyzes three scenarios for the impact of reductions in lifesaving interventions due to the crisis on child and maternal deaths globally. It warns that in the least severe scenario, where coverage is reduced around 15 percent, there would be a 9.8 percent increase in under-five child deaths, or an estimated 1,400 a day globally, and an 8.3 percent increase in maternal deaths. In the worst-case scenario, where health interventions are reduced by around 45 percent, there could be as much as a 44.7 percent increase in under-five child deaths and 38.6 percent increase in maternal deaths per month. These interventions range from family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services. The estimates show that if, for whatever reason, routine health care is disrupted and access to food is decreased, the increase in child and maternal deaths will be devastating. The greatest number of additional child deaths will be due to an increase in wasting prevalence among children, which includes the potential impact beyond the health system, and reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.
According to the modeling, and assuming reductions in coverage in the worst-case scenario, the 10 countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania. The 10 countries that are most likely to witness the highest excess child mortality rates under the worst-case scenario are: Djibouti, Eswatini, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Continued provision of life-saving services is critical in these countries.
UNICEF is also launching #Reimagine, a global campaign this week to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children, especially the most vulnerable children – such as those affected by poverty, exclusion or family violence. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to join UNICEF as we seek to respond, recover and reimagine a world currently besieged by the coronavirus:
Respond: We must act now to stop the disease from spreading, help the sick, and protect first responders on the frontlines risking their own lives to save others.
Recover: Even when the pandemic slows, each country will have to continue to work to mitigate the knock-on effects on children and address the damage inflicted. Communities will also have to work together, and across borders to rebuild and prevent a return of the disease.
Reimagine: If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that our systems and policies must protect people, all the time, not just in the event of a crisis. As the world recovers from the pandemic, now is the time to lay the groundwork for building back better.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a child rights crisis. We need an immediate-, medium- and long-term response that not only addresses the challenges created by the pandemic and its secondary impacts on children, but also outlines a clear version for building back a better world when the crisis finally recedes. For that, we need everyone’s ideas, resources, creativity and heart.” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “It is our shared responsibility today, to reimagine what the world will look like tomorrow.”