Covid-19 drain on health risks ‘extra 6,000 child deaths’ daily

Unicef flags mounting pressure from pandemic on systems in developing countries

An additional 6,000 children could die daily from preventable causes over the next six months due to pressure by the Covid-19 pandemic on health systems in developing countries, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Research based on worst-case scenarios of 118 low- to middle-income countries has found that a further 1.2 million children under five could die in just six months due to reductions in routine health service coverage.

The research, published in the Lancet, was undertaken by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health at Baltimore, United States.

These potential child deaths would be on top of the 2.5 million children who already die before their fifth birthday every six months in the 118 countries included in the study. It would mean a reverse to a nearly decade of progress internationally on ending preventable deaths among children below five years of age.

It could also mean an increase of 56,700 in maternal deaths in just six months, the researchers found. There are 144,000 maternal deaths in developing countries over any six-month period.

The 10 countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child fatalities due to pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic on health services are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda, and United Republic of Tanzania.

In such countries Covid-19 is already causing significant disruption to medical supplies and is adding huge strain to financial and human resources. Visits to their healthcare centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions and due to fears of infection on the part of communities, Unicef has said.

Could decades of progress be lost?

Its executive director Henrietta Fore said: "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."

The Johns Hopkins research also found that almost a 1.3 billion children worldwide, above 72 per cent, are out of school as a result of closures in 177 countries due to the pandemic.

It also means that 370 million children in 143 countries are missing out on school meals while, more generally, 40 per cent of the world’s population do not have facilities to wash their hands with soap and water at home.

This week Unicef has launched #Reimagine, an international campaign to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times