Covid-19: Healthcare disruptions may have caused 228,000 child deaths in South Asia, says Unicef
A new UN report titled Direct and Indirect Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia claims that healthcare disruptions caused by Covid-19 may have led to an estimated 228,000 child deaths in South Asia.
In the report, Unicef examined the impact of South Asian government strategies regarding Covid-19 on healthcare, social services, and the economies. The report assesses Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
South Asia has reported nearly 13 million Covid-19 cases and more than 186,000 deaths so far. Many countries responded to the health crises with strict lockdowns. Except for hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery shops, almost everything else was shut down.
The report estimates that child mortality (age > 5) has risen the highest in India (by 15.4%), followed by Pakistan (14.1%) and Bangladesh (13%). Unicef cited "halting of crucial services" -- ranging from nutrition benefits to immunisation -- as reasons behind additional deaths.
Besides, the report says the number of children treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal, and immunisation among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan.
The report expects almost 9 million children to permanently drop out of primary (2,724,686) and secondary (6,063,789) education. The disruption in education may decrease future lifetime earnings by 15-23% across South Asia, costing the region US$ 63.5 billion over 45 years. The highest cost is expected to be borne by India (US$ 52.8 billion, 7,017,721 overall dropouts) and Bangladesh (US$ 7.4 billion, 628,602 overall dropouts).
In extension, the report also estimates that there may have been some 3.5 million additional unwanted pregnancies -- including 400,000 among teenagers -- due to poor or no access to contraception.
The full impact of government strategies to curb Covid-19 is starting to become clear as more countries begin to assess their public health and education programmes. For instance, BBC reported that experts in India already fear that malnutrition rates will be significantly worse across the country when the data pour in over the next few months.
The interruption to health services also affected those suffering from other diseases -- the report predicts an additional 5,943 deaths across the region among adolescents who couldn't receive treatment for tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS.