Lives of about 4.59 lakh children and mothers of South Asian countries are in danger as they are being deprived of vital health services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said a UNICEF report.
Quoting a recent research study of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the UN agency yesterday in a press release said in a worst-case scenario, Bangladesh could see the additional deaths of 28,000 children in the next six months due to the disruption in immunisation, nutrition and other vital health services.
The report titled 'Lives Upended' has described how coronavirus and the subsequent measures taken to curb it are having disastrous immediate and longer-term consequences for 600 million children in the South Asia.
According to the report, the transport crisis during the closure and fear of transmission at health centres are major reasons behind the falling immunisation coverage in Bangladesh.
In April, Bangladesh reported that the number of children receiving routine vaccinations dropped by about 49 percent compared to the previous month.
"Right across South Asia, the Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc with public health services. And the situation is likely to get worse," read the report.
"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.
Highlighting the findings of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the report says various factors were undermining the provision and utilisation of many essential maternal, new-born, and child health services.
One was the reassignment of health workers, equipment, and facilities to care for Covid-19 patients, forcing the suspension of other routine services, it says adding that the disruption to the global pharmaceutical and medical supply chain are other factors.
Highlighting the growing food insecurity, UNICEF says in Bangladesh some of the poorest families are unable to afford three meals a day.
The report points out that due to the pandemic the admission of severely wasting children at healthcare centres has dropped by 90 percent recently.
Severe wasting, a potentially lethal condition, requires treatment where special nutritious paste (Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or RUTF) is used.
The economic turmoil triggered by Covid-19 is hitting families across the region hard. Large-scale job losses and wage cuts have coincided with the loss of remittances from overseas workers and from tourism.
UNICEF projections show that over the coming six months as many as 120 million more children could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity, joining some 240 million children already classified as poor in the region.
Gough said, "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."
In order to mitigate the impact on poorer families, the report says that governments should immediately direct more resources towards social protection schemes, including emergency universal child benefits and school feeding programmes.
UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Tomoo Hozumi advised the government to continue vaccination and nutrition programmes and ensure health safety of these service providers.
He also asked the government to reopen schools, ensuring safety, immediately.