In an Indian school, March 14, 2021 (illustration) -
Keshav Singh / Hindustan Times / Shutterstock / SIPA
The Covid-19 pandemic may have indirectly contributed to increasing infant mortality in South Asia in 2020, with 228,000 additional child deaths, as well as 11,000 maternal deaths and 3.5 million unwanted pregnancies, says the UN in a report released on Wednesday.
The study commissioned by Unicef, the United Nations children's agency, accuses "drastic reductions in access to and use of essential public health services" due to the pandemic across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, home to 1.8 billion people in total.
“The decline in these essential services has had a devastating impact on the health and nutrition of the poorest families,” said George Laryea-Adjei, regional director of Unicef.
“It is absolutely vital that these services are fully restored for children and mothers who desperately need them, and that everything be done to make people feel safe accessing them,” Laryea-Adjei added.
35% less DTP vaccination in India
These figures are based on actual changes observed compared to pre-pandemic data in South Asia where, in 2019 alone, 1.4 million children under the age of five died, of which 63% were newborns. born.
Countries in the region, as elsewhere in the world, have imposed strict containment measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Many restrictions have since been relaxed.
But according to the report, even where health services have not been shut down, the number of people using them has declined.
In Bangladesh and Nepal, for example, the number of young children treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has fallen by more than 80%, while DTP vaccination of children has fallen sharply in India (-35%) and in Pakistan (-65%).
Some 420 million children in South Asia have been deprived of education due to the pandemic, adds the report which is alarmed that nine million children are at risk of never returning to school.
Such a situation risks promoting the increase in child marriages, but also 400,000 additional teenage pregnancies, as well as an increase in the number of maternal and newborn deaths, or even high rates of stunting of children.
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Unicef denounces "alarming" risks for babies born in poor countries