India may witness the death of additional 1.2-6 lakh children over the next one year from preventable causes as a consequence to the disruption in regular health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has warned.
The warning comes from a new study that brackets India with nine other nations from Asia and Africa that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths as a consequence to the pandemic.
These potential child deaths will be in addition to the 2.5 million children who already die before their fifth birthday every six months in the 118 countries included in the study.
The estimate is based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the Lancet.
This means the global mortality rate of children dying before their fifth birthday, one of the key progress indicators in all of the global development, could potentially increase for the first time since 1960 when the data was first collected.
There were 1.04 million under-5 deaths in India in 2017, of which nearly 50% (0.57 million) were neonatal deaths. The highest number of under-5 deaths was in Uttar Pradesh (312,800 which included 165,800 neonatal deaths) and Bihar (141,500 which included 75,300 neonatal deaths).
The researchers looked at three scenarios, factoring in parameters like reduction in workforce, supplies and access to healthcare for services like family planning, antenatal care, childbirth care, postnatal care, vaccination and preventive care for early childhood. The effects are modelled for a period of three months, six months and 12 months.
In scenario-1 marked by 10-18% reduction of coverage of all the services, the number of additional children deaths could be in the range of 30,000 plus over three months, more than 60,000 over six months and above 120,000 over the next 12 months.
The numbers sharply rose to nearly 55,000; 109,000 and 219,000 respectively for scenario-2, which was associated with an 18-28% drop in all the regular services.
But in the worst-case scenario in which 40-50% of the services are not available, the number of additional deaths ballooned to 1.5 lakhs in the three months in the short-range to nearly six lakhs over a year.
The ten countries that could potentially have the largest number of additional child deaths are Bangladesh, Brazil, Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania.
In countries with already weak health systems, 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 due to the fear of infection among the communities. Such disruptions could result in potentially devastating increases in maternal and child deaths, the UN agency warned.