NEW YORK (June 15, 2020) – “The COVID-19 pandemic is putting health systems under unprecedented stress in the region. Primary health care services have either decreased or been interrupted in several countries.
“While we do not have many cases of COVID-19 among children in the region, it is evident that the pandemic is affecting children’s health firsthand. An additional 51,000 children under the age of five might die in the region by the end of 2020 if the current disruption of essential health and nutrition services is protracted and malnutrition among children increases.
“If this happens, it would be an increase of nearly 40 percent in comparison to pre-COVID figures, reversing progress made in child survival in the region by nearly two decades.
“A combination of factors will contribute to this bleak prediction. Overstretched, many front-line health workers have diverted their efforts to respond to the outbreak amid a shortage of personal protective equipment and other essential supplies. Lockdowns, movement restrictions and economic barriers could further prevent communities’ access to health care. Many fear of contracting the virus while at health facilities. Children and mothers are therefore likely to miss out on preventive interventions including immunization, treatment of neonatal infections and childhood diseases, care during pregnancy and childbirth and services to prevent an increase in wasting.
“But we can avoid this scenario, allowing tens of thousands of children to celebrate their fifth birthday surrounded by their families and friends.
“We call for the following steps and confirm that UNICEF and WHO are committed to support health care systems around the region to implement these actions:
- The full and safe resumption of vaccination campaigns and nutrition services, following strict precautionary measures for infection prevention, using personal protective equipment, avoiding overcrowding and adhering to physical spacing in health care facilities.
- Prioritize and facilitate access to primary health care services for every child especially the most vulnerable through the availability of health personnel and supplies.
- Equip the community outreach teams across the region with the minimum requirements for infection prevention and control (IPC) including the implementation of standard precautions and personal protective equipment.
- Invest in effective public communication and community engagement initiatives to increase trust in public health systems and promote appropriate care-seeking behaviors among families.
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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.