Coronavirus can ‘indirectly’ kill over 28,000 children in Bangladesh: Unicef

A new analysis projects that more than 28,000 children under the age of five could die in next six months as an “indirect” result of the pandemic in worst case scenario if there is further reduction in health services in Bangladesh.

Wasting, severe form of malnutrition, would be a ‘significant contributory’ factor to such under-five deaths, the Unicef said stressing ‘actions’.

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

According to the modeling, and assuming reductions in coverage in the worst-case scenario, Bangladesh is among the 10 countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths.

Others are: Brazil, DR Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania.

The UN agency for children launched #Reimagine, a global campaign to prevent the pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children.

This new analysis comes as children are already suffering due to Covid-19 related healthcare devastation.

Globally Unicef said an additional 6,000 children could die worldwide every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weaken health systems and disrupt routine services.

In Bangladesh too, uptake of critical health services for under-five children has decreased significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The service utilization for children under-5 years of age in March 2020 was down 25 percent compared to March 2019.

“A large number of children could die from preventable and treatable conditions if the pandemic leads to substantial reductions in health service coverage,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Country Representative in Bangladesh, in a statement.

“UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Bangladesh to help ensure that lifesaving care for children and mothers is available, safe and accessible.”

The uptake of maternal and newborn health services has also decreased, approximately by 19 percent.

In addition, key maternal health services such as antenatal care visits and postnatal checkups in health facilities have decreased substantially, and deliveries in facilities have decreased by 21 percent for the period of January to March 2020 compared with October to December 2019.

Due to the pandemic, Bangladesh had to postpone a key measles and rubella immunization campaign targeting 34 million children aged 9 months to 9 years.

Though routine immunization sessions continue, many outreach sessions have been suspended and the transportation of vaccines remains challenging.

While the health system has had to give much of its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic response, which is very important, UNICEF says they are also working with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to maintain routine essential maternal, newborn and child health services which have equally important consequences for children and women.

The Ministry has recruited an additional 2,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses to help overcome the challenges.

Additional investments in health are needed now more than ever to strengthen the health system in Bangladesh.

Based on the worst of three scenarios in 118 low- and 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 service coverage levels and an increase in child wasting.

These potential child deaths will be in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die before their 5th birthday every six months in the 118 countries included in the study, threatening to reverse nearly a decade of progress on ending preventable under-five mortality.

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 paper analyzes three scenarios for the impact of reductions in lifesaving interventions due to the crisis on child and maternal deaths.

It warns that in the least severe scenario, where coverage is reduced around 15 per cent, there would be a 9.8 per cent increase in under-five child deaths, or an estimated 1,400 a day, and an 8.3 per cent increase in maternal deaths.

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 estimates show that if, for whatever reason, 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 will be due to an increase in wasting prevalence among children, which includes the potential impact beyond the health system, and reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.

Through the new #Reimagine campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to join UNICEF as “we seek to respond, recover and reimagine a world currently besieged by the coronavirus”.

To kickstart the campaign, two of UNICEF’s partners - Pandora and ING - have both agreed to pledge a generous donation to show their part in answering the call to this appeal and to spur more donations from the public in the coming weeks.