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Saturday, 6 June 2020

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Coronavirus could increase child deaths by 6,000 a day, UNICEF warns

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An additional 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the Coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services, UNICEF said today as it launches the biggest ever appeal for children in its 73 year history.

Analysis of UNICEF figures by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published today in the Lancet Global Health Journal, looks at the worst of three scenarios in 118 low-middle income countries. The analysis estimates that an additional 1.2 million under-five deaths could occur in just six months, due to reductions in routine health services and an increase in child wasting.

These projected child deaths would be in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die before their fifth birthday every six months, threatening to reverse nearly a decade of progress on ending preventable child deaths.

Unicef UK’s Executive Director Sacha Deshmukh said:

“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 World War Two.

“Children’s lives are being upended across the globe – their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations 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.”

The research highlights how in countries with already weak health systems, Coronavirus is causing disruptions in medical supply chains and straining financial and human resources. Visits to health care centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions, and as communities remain fearful of infection.

In response, Unicef UK is launching its biggest ever appeal, ‘Save Generation COVID’, to help tackle the impact of Coronavirus and support its ongoing response to children and families around the world, urging the UK public to rally behind its fundraising efforts in order to reach the world’s most vulnerable children and families. Unicef UK’s appeal will support ongoing efforts to tackle Coronavirus globally by supplying vital medical equipment, working with communities, supporting health, education and social services for children, tackling misinformation and carrying out prevention campaigns.

Unicef UK Ambassador, Ewan McGregor said:

“In all my sixteen years of being a Unicef UK Ambassador, there has never been such a far-reaching, global appeal that aims to help children and families around the world affected by the same single, unifying crisis. That thousands of children will die every day as a result of missing out on basic medical support is truly heart-breaking. Over the years, I have met children all over the world with UNICEF in places with weaker health systems like Ethiopia, Malawi and India – and knowing their chances of dying have been dangerously increased due to the Coronavirus pandemic is a terrible situation. Please join UNICEF in ensuring that we can save the COVID generation, and all children are able to survive this crisis and thrive long after it.”

Unicef UK Ambassador, Rita Ora said:

“Over the years working with Unicef UK, I have seen how small donations can make a really big difference to children affected by poverty, natural disasters and conflicts around the world. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate poorer countries globally, I am proud to be supporting Unicef UK’s campaign, to support children in the biggest crisis we have seen since World War Two. I hope that as well as raising vital funds for children and families affected by this crisis around the world, we also raise awareness of the underlying long-term effects the virus may have on the future of children everywhere. Children are increasingly becoming the hidden victims of this crisis – let’s not leave them to suffer in silence!”

Today’s new research examines the impact of the pandemic on life-saving healthcare for children and mothers across three scenarios. It warns that in the most optimistic scenario, where health services are reduced by around 15 per cent, there would be a 9.8 per cent increase in under-five child deaths – an estimated 1,400 a day – and an 8.3 per cent increase in maternal deaths.

In the worst-case scenario, where health services are reduced by around 45 per cent, there could be as much as a 44.7 per cent increase in under-five child deaths and 38.6 per cent increase in maternal deaths per month. Services analysed included family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative health care. The estimates show that if 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 would be caused by an increase in malnutrition and wasting among children (posing long-term health risks) and a reduction in the treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia. In addition to child deaths, some 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in just six months, in addition to the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same countries over a six-month period.

The 10 countries projected to have the greatest additional number of child deaths in the worst-case scenario 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. In addition to the estimated potential rise in under-five and maternal deaths described in the analysis, UNICEF is deeply alarmed by the other knock-on effects of the pandemic on children:

  • An estimated 77 per cent of children under the age of 18 worldwide – 1.80 billion out of 2.35 billion – were living in one of the 132 countries with stay-at-home policies, as of early May.
  • Nearly 1.3 billion students – over 72 per cent – are out of school as a result of nationwide school closures in 177 countries.
  • 40 per cent of the world’s population are not able to wash their hands with soap and water at home.
  • Nearly 370 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources as schools are shuttered.
  • As of 14 April, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on their measles vaccination as the pandemic causes immunisation campaigns to stop to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The charity also states that as well as the immediate response needed to support children, investment is urgently needed in partnership with the UK and global governments and donors to build sustainable and strong health systems now to ensure the world’s poorest countries can fight the pandemic while protecting the delivery of essential health services.

Sacha Deshmukh adds:

“We cannot allow almost a decade of progress on ending preventable child deaths to become undone on our watch.

“If we have learned anything from this crisis, it’s that our lives are interconnected and we all have a duty to protect children and families around the world. We urgently need the UK public to support Unicef UK in our biggest ever appeal and help us save the COVID generation and ensure that children around the world survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.”

Unicef UK’s Save Generation COVID appeal launches today – visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help #GenerationCovid.

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