By Joseph Erunke
THE United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has expressed fears that an additional 950 Nigerian children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts routine services and threatens to weaken the health system. The global humanitarian and developmental aid agency also said about 6,800 more Nigerian maternal deaths could occur in just six months.
The agency said in a statement yesterday: “The estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly published in The Lancet Global Health journal. “In a commentary to the Lancet report, UNICEF warns these disruptions could result in potentially devastating increases in maternal and child deaths.’’ According to UNICEF, the analysis offers three scenarios of the potential impact of COVID-19 in 118 low- and middle-income countries, including Nigeria.
“In the worst-case scenario, the estimate is that an additional nearly 173,000 under-five deaths could occur in just six months, due to reductions in routine health service coverage levels – including routine vaccinations – and an increase in child wasting.
”In Nigeria, these potential child deaths would be in addition to the 475,200 children who already die before their fifth birthday every six months – threatening to reverse a decade of progress in ending preventable under-five child mortality in Nigeria. “About 6,800 more Nigerian maternal deaths could also occur in just six months. Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades.
“We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore. Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria’s Country Representative, said in his reaction: “We have made steady progress in reducing preventable child and maternal deaths in Nigeria over the last 20 years – and it would be devastating if that progress is lost or reversed – devastating for Nigerian families, communities and for the country as a whole.
“The under-five mortality rate has declined gradually over the last two decades in Nigeria – from 213 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 120 today. This is likely due to improved access and coverage of key lifesaving interventions at primary health care and community levels and improved immunization rates. “But in countries with still overall weak health systems, like Nigeria, 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. ”The estimates in this new study show that if, for whatever reason, routine health care is disrupted, the rise in child and maternal deaths will be devastating.”