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Children deaths up in wake of pandemic

Reproductive Health - By Anyango Otieno

UN Agencies have warned that the Covid-19 pandemic was threatening to reverse decades of progress in eliminating preventable child deaths around the world.

The number of global under-five deaths dropped to its lowest point on record in 2019 – down to 5.2 million from 12.5 million in 1990, according to new mortality estimates released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group.

Since then, however, surveys by Unicef and WHO reveal that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress.

The latest Levels and Trends in Child Mortality September 2020 report from Unicef and partners predict that close to 23 million five to 24-year-olds and 48 million children under five will die between 2020 and 2030.

Almost half of these under-five deaths will be newborns, the report says.

“The fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts health and well-being at the centre of our response,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

He added that disruption to immunisation programmes from the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.

The Ministry of Health already registered a decline in immunisation of children this year due to Covid-19.

By August, the ministry noticed a 2.34 per cent dip compared to the same period last year. As at this time last year, 640,000 children were immunised and attained a national average of 83 per cent; this year, 600,025 children were immunised.

According to the report, in sub-Saharan Africa one in 13 children died before reaching their fifth birthday in 2019 – a rate that is 20 times higher than the rate of one in 264 in the region of Australia and New Zealand and 20 years behind the world average, which achieved a one in 13 rate by 1999. Reducing inequalities and strengthening health care systems, especially in the face of Covid-19, is essential for ending these preventable childhood deaths and for ensuring that no child is left behind.

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