Infant deaths could rise due to Covid -19 pandemic
The number of global under-five deaths could increase due to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a new survey by the United Nations Children Education Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
According to Unicef, 74,000 children in Kenya die annually before reaching the age of five, 46 per cent of which are neonatal deaths.
Remarkably in the recent past, global under-five deaths have dropped from a high of 12.5 million in 1990 to a low of 5.2 million in 2019.
Since then, global surveys now reveal that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress.
“The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the Covid-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” said Henrietta Fore, Unicef Executive Director.
Fore said 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.
Unicef notes that without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.
Over the past 30 years, health services to prevent or treat causes of child death such as pre-term, low birth-weight, complications during birth, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, as well as vaccination, have played enormous role in saving millions of lives.
Disruption by Covid-19 has affected child and maternal health services, such as health check-ups, vaccinations and pre-natal and post-natal care.
Overstretched resources such a medical staff and a general uneasiness with using health services due to a fear of getting coronavirus has also negatively impacted service delivery.
The survey conducted between June-July across 77 countries established that almost 68 per cent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunisation services.
Additionally, 63 per cent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal check-ups and 59 per cent in post-natal care.
Health interventions such as these are critical for stopping preventable newborn and child deaths.
For example, women who receive care by professional midwives trained according to international standards are 16 per cent less likely to lose their baby and 24 per cent less likely to experience pre-term birth, according to WHO.
“Now, we must not let the coronavirus pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations.
Rather, it is time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems,” observed Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.