COVID-19 impact may kill 8 lakh kids in South Asia: Unicef

The Asian Age.  | Balu Pulipaka

World, South Asia

The bulk of these would occur in India and Pakistan, although Bangladesh and Afghanistan will also be affected, a recent report say

Children of stranded migrant workers wait to board a special train to Bihar state from MGR central railway station after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Chennai. (AFP)

Hyderabad: The Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to disrupt services critical to children’s welfare and well-being in South Asia, including India, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has said in its latest report ‘Upended Lives,’ released on Tuesday.

The disruption of services would add to the existing undermining of many essential maternal, new-born, and child health services. The reassignment of health workers, equipment, and facilities to care for Covid-19 patients, is forcing suspension of routine services, the report said, citing research in May by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

An additional 2,400 children in South Asia could die every day from the indirect consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is “unravelling decades of health, education and other advances for children across South Asia and governments must take urgent action to prevent millions of families from slipping back into poverty,” the Unicef said.

In the worst-case scenario, South Asia could see the death of an additional 8.81 lakh children aged five or under and that of 36,000 mothers over the next 12 months. The bulk of these deaths would occur in India and Pakistan, although Bangladesh and Afghanistan could also see significant levels of additional mortality, the report said.

“The direct risk to children from the virus is much less than that from the disruption to routine health services,” said Unicef health adviser for South Asia, Paul Rutter. “It is crucial that childbirth, child health and nutrition services remain available for families during the time of Covid-19,” said the report, quoting him.

“The side-effects of the pandemic across South Asia, including the lockdown and other measures, have been damaging for children in numerous ways,’ said Jean Gough, Unicef regional director for South Asia.

“But the longer-term impact of the economic crisis on children will be on a different scale entirely. Without urgent action now, Covid-19 could destroy the hopes and futures of an entire generation,” an official release from Unicef, quoting her, said.

The lockdowns and other restrictions on movement had a devastating impact on children which was apparent in many parts. It was perhaps most visible in the huge movement of guest workers and their families heading back to their homes.

“The journey for these children was arduous enough,” said Unicef India representative, Yasmin Haque, “but many of them have continued to suffer abuse, uncertainty, stigma and discrimination even after they reached home.”