Decades of progress in eliminating preventable child deaths could be lost as COVID-19 severely jeopardizes child and maternal health services around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.
According to the latest child mortality estimates released by the World Health Organization, Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNICEF, and the World Bank Group, global mortality rates of children went down to 5.2 million in 2019, from 12.5 million in 1990.
However, surveys conducted by UNICEF and WHO reflect retarded distribution of crucial health care services in the wake of a pandemic, that is essential in eliminating preventable child deaths, which the agencies fear, can threaten decades of hard-won progress.
“When children are denied access to health services because the system is overrun, and when women are afraid to give birth at the hospital for fear of infection, they, too, may become casualties of COVID-19,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.“
WHO noted, critical child and maternity care facilities given by health care systems around the world, have over the past 30 years have prevented child deaths from causes such as low birth weight, preterm, neonatal sepsis, birth complications, malaria, diarrhea, and different vaccinations.
But in the wake of the pandemic, countries worldwide are encountering disruption in various life-saving healthcare services for children, including parental, and post-natal care due to COVID-19 and general paranoia of catching the virus while seeking medical attention from hospitals.
UNICEF survey conducted in Summer across 77 countries found 68 % of countries reported at least some disruption in health checkups for children and immunization services; 63 % of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups while 59 % in the post-natal car.
“The fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts health and well-being at the centre of our response,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said in a media statement.
“Now, we must not let the COVID-19 pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations. Rather, it’s time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems,” he added.
The worst-hit countries were Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen.
The most commonly cited reasons for healthcare disruptions were because of 1) people avoiding healthcare center because of fear of infection; 2) suspension of service and facilities, 3) travel restrictions, and 4) lack of healthcare workers owing to PPE shortages including gloves and masks among others, based on the WHO and UNICEF survey.
“While the report highlights the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on interventions that are critical for children’s health, it also draws attention to the need to redress the vast inequities in a child’s prospects for survival and good health,” John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs said.
“The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” Henrietta Fore said.