‘Covid-19 could reverse downward trend in infant deaths’

The Covid-19 pandemic could reverse decades of progress toward eliminating preventable infant deaths, according to the Unicef.

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 on Wednesday 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, surveys by Unicef and the WHO showed that the pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress.

A Unicef survey conducted over the last several months 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 check-ups and 59 per cent in post-natal care checkups.

A recent WHO survey in 105 countries revealed that 52 per cent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 per cent in services for the management of malnutrition.

Based on the responses from countries that participated in the surveys, the most commonly cited reasons for health service disruptions included parents avoiding health centres 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.

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.