Pandemic Threatens Lives of Millions of Children: UN

Disruptions to health services due to the pandemic are putting millions of extra lives at risk worldwide, the UN said Wednesday, warning that Covid-19 could reverse decades of progress in reducing child mortality.

The past 30 years have seen remarkable progress in the prevention or treatment of infant death causes including premature births and pneumonia, reports AFP.

New mortality estimates published by the UN Children's Fund UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank Group found that 2019 saw the lowest record number of global deaths of under-five people.

Approximately 5.2 million children died last year from preventable disease, compared to 12.5 million in 1990.

But it warned that by cutting routine child and maternal health services, the pandemic risked doing away with all of this.

A 77-country UNICEF survey found that 68 per cent reported at least some disruption in child health checks and immunisations.

Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, said that children and mothers were denied access to health care, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, as Covid-19 cases blocked national infrastructure.

“The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” she said.

“Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.”

Neo-natal care in developing nations is relatively inexpensive and can profoundly affect child survival rates.

For example, according to the WHO, women who receive care from professional midwives are 16 percent less likely to lose their baby, and 24 percent less likely to experience preterm birth. Johns Hopkins University's modeling earlier this year found that nearly 6,000 additional children could die every single day if medium-term Covid-19 healthcare disruptions continue.

– ‘Vast inequality’ –

The survey found that last year, in 1000 live births, 7 countries had infant mortality rates of more than 50 deaths.

In Afghanistan, where 1 in 17 children die before their fifth birthday, a "significant reduction" reported by the health ministry in visits to health facilities, UNICEF said.

Much of the disruption can be due to the fear that Covid-19 will contract. But there are deep risks for babies and mothers to avoid health care facilities that have nothing to do with coronavirus.

John Wilmoth, director of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Population Division, said the report showed the world has made significant progress in reducing child mortality in the last 30 years.

“It also draws attention to the need to redress the vast inequities in a child’s prospects for survival and good health,” he said.



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