About 2.39 lakh child deaths and 11,000 maternal deaths might have recorded in South Asia in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions on health services, according to a UNICEF study.
The report “Direct and Indirect Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia” covered Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia commissioned the study and Sick Kids’ Center for Global Child Health implemented it.
UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei opined that the fall-off of critical services had a devastating impact on the health and nutrition of the poorest and most vulnerable families.
The report noted that that treatment for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) fell in almost all the South Asian countries. In Bangladesh and Nepal, the number of young children treated for SAM fell by over 80 per cent. India and Pakistan also saw reductions in the number of children receiving DPT3/Penta 3 vaccinations of around 35 and 65 per cent respectively. The report notes that South Asia recorded 1.4 million deaths of children under five years of age in 2019 before COVID-19. It accounted for 63 per cent of the total deaths. One in three young children are stunted, while less than half of pregnant women aged 15 to 49 received the recommended four antenatal visits.
UNINTENDED PREGNANCY AND DISEASE RELATED MORTALITY
The UNICEF report said that 3.5 million unintended pregnancies could have occurred in 2020. In the second quarter of 2020, maternal Anemia increased by over 40 per cent in Nepal and 22 per cent in Bangladesh when compared to the same period in 2019. The report also notes an increase in disease-related mortality. It reported nearly 6,000 additional deaths from malaria, Tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS and typhoid. The report said school closure affected about 420 million children in South Asia. An estimated nine million permanent school dropout was expected. Among them, 50 per cent are girls. The report warns of increase in child marriages, resulting in an additional four lakh adolescent pregnancies
- Prioritise services for the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, adolescents and young infants
- Protect supply chain and delivery mechanisms to increase coverage of childhood immunizations, family planning services antenatal care and other essential medicines and commodities.
- Ensure adequate personal protective equipment supply and safe environment at drop-in health care facilities
- Improve coverage of quality community-based nutrition, immunization and other outreach services.
- Strengthen nutrition support services for the most vulnerable children. including community-based management of moderate and acute malnutrition programmes
- Safe reopening of schools should also be a top priority.