With the number of under-five deaths at an all-time recorded low of 5.2 million in 2019, disruptions in child and maternal health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic are putting millions of additional lives at stake, the World Health Organization, backed up by UNICEF warns.
The agencies inform in a news release on Wednesday, that the number of global under-five deaths dropped to its lowest point on record in 2019 – down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990, according to new mortality estimates released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group.
Since then, however, surveys by UNICEF and WHO inform that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services threatening to unravel 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.
“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. 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 preterm, low birthweight, complications during birth, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, as well as vaccination, have played a large role in saving millions of lives”, the News Release states.
“Now countries worldwide are experiencing disruptions in child and maternal health services, such as health checkups, vaccinations and prenatal and post-natal care, due to resource constraints and a general uneasiness with using health services due to a fear of getting COVID-19.”
A UNICEF survey conducted recently, across 77 countries found that almost 68 per cent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunization services. In addition, 63 per cent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 per cent in post-natal care.
A recent WHO survey based on responses from 105 countries revealed that 52 per cent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 per cent in services for management of malnutrition.
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 internationals 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.
“The fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts health and well-being at the centre of our response,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“Now, we must not let the COVID-19 pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations. Rather, it’s time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems.”