An additional 6,000 children could die every day over the next six months from preventable causes owing to weakened health systems and disruptions in routine health services in light of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Approximately 2,400 children could die every in South Asia alone, it said.

The estimates are based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The report has been published in The Lancet Global Health journal.

The study analyzes three scenarios in terms of the impact of reductions in lifesaving interventions due to the pandemic on child and maternal deaths.

Worst case scenario

“Based on the worst of three scenarios in 118 low- and middle-income countries globally, the analysis estimates that an additional 1.2 million under-five deaths could occur in just six months, due to reductions in routine health service coverage levels and an increase in child wasting,” the report said.

India is among the 10 countries with potentially the highest number of additional child deaths including Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

According to the estimates, up to 300,000 children could die in India alone along with 95,000 in Pakistan, 28,000 in Bangladesh, 13,000 in Afghanistan, and 4,000 in Nepal.

“In the worst-case scenario, where health interventions 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. These interventions range from family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services,” the report said.

“We fear that the number of children dying before their fifth birthdays is going to increase for the first time in decades,” said UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough. “Fighting the pandemic is critical but we cannot lose momentum on the decades of progress we have made in the region to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths.”

UNICEF Regional Health Adviser for South Asia Paul Rutter said, “It is crucial that childbirth, child health and nutrition services remain available for families during the time of Covid-19. It would be terrible to see a situation in which many thousands of children die, not because of the virus itself but because routine services are disrupted.”

UNICEF has also launched a global campaign called ‘#Reimagine’ to “prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children, especially the most vulnerable children – such as those affected by poverty, exclusion or family violence,” issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to help with the initiative.

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