The pandemic may have indirectly contributed to around 228,000 additional child deaths in 2020, according to a UN report.
The coronavirus pandemic may have indirectly contributed to around 228,000 additional child deaths in 2020, 11,000 maternal deaths and 3.5 million unintended pregnancies in South Asia, the United Nations said in a report.
The study, commissioned by UNICEF and published Wednesday, blamed “drastic reductions in the availability and use of essential public health services” due to the pandemic in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh , Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, home to 1.8 billion people.
“The fall of these essential services has had a devastating impact on the health and nutrition of the poorest families,” said UNICEF Regional Director George Laryea-Adjei.
“It is absolutely vital that these services are fully restored for children and mothers who desperately need them, and that everything is done to make people feel safe to use them,” said Laryea-Adjei.
The estimates were based on actual changes observed and on modeling exercises using pre-pandemic data in South Asia, where in 2019 alone, 1.4 million children under five died, of which 63% newborns.
Countries in the region, as elsewhere, have imposed strict lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Many restrictions have since been relaxed, although many schools remain closed.
The report says that even where health services are not closed, the number of people visiting them is declining.
In Bangladesh and Nepal, for example, the number of young children treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) fell by more than 80 percent, while childhood immunizations fell sharply in India and Pakistan.
With some 420 million children in South Asia out of school due to the pandemic, the report also warned that nine million children would likely never return to school, the report added.
This in turn is expected to lead to an increase in child marriages, leading to an additional 400,000 teenage pregnancies, as well as an increase in the number of maternal and newborn deaths and rates of stunting in children.