The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned Wednesday that about 6,000 young children could die every day from preventable causes during the next six months of the coronavirus pandemic. The deaths would largely occur in low- and middle-income countries with health systems that are already weak and may be overwhelmed by the pandemic response.
"Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement. "We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost."
The warning is based on an analysis the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which was published in the Lancet Global Health journal. The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Global Affairs Canada, examined three models of what could happen to children and mothers in 118 countries if access to health care and due to the pandemic.
In the worst-case scenario, the study projected more than 1.15 million additional child deaths over six months, as well as 56,700 additional maternal deaths. Even under the best scenario, researchers predicted 253,500 additional child deaths and 12,200 maternal deaths.
Many of the child deaths would result from lack of sufficient nutrition and reduced access to antibiotics and oral rehydration solution for common childhood illnesses. A reduction in available medical care during childbirth and clean birth environments would account for the majority of maternal deaths.
Researchers also anticipated harm from food supply problems and disruptions to routine health care, caused by the collapse of health systems or by "intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic."
"Our results show that the indirect effects of the pandemic are not merely economic," the study says. "If the delivery of health care is disrupted, many women and children will die."
Moreover, it warns, "The longer that coverage reductions continue, the more lives will be lost."
The study predicts that the 10 countries that would see the largest increase in child deaths are Bangladesh,, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania.
UNICEF made the announcement as it is launching its #Reimagine global campaign to raise money to aid vulnerable children in the pandemic.