As many as 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months due to the impact of coronavirus on routine health services, the UN has warned. This projected figure threatens to reverse nearly a decade of progress on ending preventable child deaths according to UNICEF.
“This pandemic is having far-reaching consequences for all of us, but it is undoubtedly the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since the second world war,” UNICEF UK’s executive director Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement.
The estimate of the 6,000 additional deaths from preventable causes over the next six months, is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published on Wednesday in the Lancet Global Health Journal.
“Children’s lives are being upended across the globe – their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their education lost, their food supply cut off. Even in the UK, children face the threat of a measles outbreak and school closures are putting vulnerable children at increased risk,” Deshmukh said.
UNICEF said the analysis was based on the worst of three scenarios analysing 118 low and middle-income countries, estimating that an additional 1.2 million deaths could occur in just the next six months due to the global disruption of essential maternal and child health interventions – such as family planning, birth and postnatal care, and vaccinations.
“Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a press release. “We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost.”
Around 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in just six months, in addition to the 144,000 likely deaths across the same group of countries.
The research underlines just how disruptive to medical supply chains coronavirus has been in countries with weak health systems. Visits to healthcare centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions, and fear of infection, it says. In the UK, according to research from the Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, only a third of the number of children in the UK who would normally be taken to hospital are there at the moment and children are being presented “later and sicker to hospital” because of the fear of infection.
“We have seen what the pandemic is doing to countries with developed health systems and we are concerned about what it would do to countries with weaker systems and fewer available resources,” Ms Fore asserted.
The UN agency also highlighted that the mental health and psychosocial impact of restricted movement, school closures and subsequent isolation are likely to intensify already high levels of stress, especially for vulnerable youth. It also said that children living under restricted movement and socio-economic decline are in greater jeopardy of violence and neglect. Girls and women are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence.
Because of the unprecedented dangers COVID-19 poses to children, UNICEF has launched its largest appeal in its 73 year history – #Reimagine, a global campaign to prevent the pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a child rights crisis,” said Ms Fore. “It is our shared responsibility today, to reimagine what the world will look like tomorrow.”