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COVID-19 could reverse downward trend in infant deaths: UN

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 09:15, September 10, 2020

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- The COVID-19 pandemic could reverse decades of progress toward eliminating preventable child deaths, said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday.

The number of global deaths for children under the age of five dropped to its lowest point in 2019, down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990, according to new mortality estimates released by an inter-agency group made up of UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group.

Since then, however, surveys by UNICEF and the WHO show that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress, said UNICEF in a press release.

A UNICEF survey taken over the last several months across 77 countries found that almost 68 percent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunization services. In addition, 63 percent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 percent in post-natal care checkups.

A recent WHO survey in 105 countries revealed that 52 percent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 percent in services for the management of malnutrition, said the press release.

Based on the responses from countries that participated in the surveys, the most commonly cited reasons for health service disruptions included parents avoiding health centers for fear of infection; transport restrictions; suspension or closure of services and facilities; fewer health care workers due to diversions or fear of infection as a result of shortages in personal protective equipment; and greater financial difficulties.

Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen are among the hardest-hit countries, the surveys showed.

Seven of the nine countries had high child mortality rates of more than 50 deaths per 1,000 live births among children under five in 2019.

"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 UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

"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," she said. "Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die."

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