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Child mortality rate set to increase for first time in decades without urgent action

The COVID-19 pandemic is fast becoming a lasting crisis for children.

As COVID-19 devastates already fragile health systems, over 6,000 additional children under five could die a day, UNICEF warned today. 

The estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly published in The Lancet Global Health journal. They estimate that an additional 1.2 million children under five years could die in just six months, across 118 low-and middle-income countries due to reductions in routine health services and an increase in child wasting.

“We cannot allow COVID-19 to undo the remarkable progress we have made globally to reduce under-five mortality rates,” said UNICEF NZ Executive Director Vivien Maidaborn. “Since 1990 the under-five mortality rate has fallen by more than half and we must not let children become collateral damage during this global pandemic.” 

In countries with already weak health systems, COVID-19 is causing disruptions in medical supply chains and straining financial and human resources. Visits to health care centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions, and as communities remain fearful of infection.

UNICEF warns these disruptions could result in potentially devastating increases in maternal and child deaths. 

According to the study, the 10 countries most at risk of increased child deaths are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania.

The 10 countries that are most likely to witness the highest excess child mortality rates are: Djibouti, Eswatini, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Somalia. “It is critical that UNICEF continues to provide life-saving services because we cannot let decades of progress be lost. NZD $2.6 billion is required for UNICEF’s humanitarian response to support communities facing the knock-on effects of this global pandemic” said Maidaborn.

UNICEF is deeply alarmed by the other knock-on effects of the pandemic on children:

An estimated 77 per cent of children under the age of 18 worldwide – 1.80 billion out of 2.35 billion – were living in one of the 132 countries with stay-at-home policies, as of early May.

  • Nearly 1.3 billion students – over 72 per cent – are out of school as a result of nationwide school closures in 177 countries. 

  • 40 per cent of the world’s population are not able to wash their hands with soap and water at home.

  • Nearly 370 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources as schools are shuttered.

  • As of 14 April, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on their measles vaccination as the pandemic causes immunisation campaigns to stop to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, UNICEF have reached over 12 million people with critical water, sanitation and hygiene supplies; delivered urgently needed medical supplies to 52 countries and reached nearly 80 million children with distance or home-based learning” said Maidaborn. “It is our shared responsibility to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, are not forgotten in this crisis.”

Children need protection and we will continue to support them right around the world. But we cannot do this alone. Please help UNICEF protect and support children and families affected by Covid-19.