The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said “indiscriminate lockdown” implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the risks of children dying as a result of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea in developing countriesㅡand according to it, this “far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus”.
The Fund’s chief of health, Dr Stefan Peterson said this during an interview with The Telegraph on Wednesday, warning that haphazard lockdowns put in place in many countries could be counterproductive.
“Indiscriminate lockdown measures do not have an optimal effect on the virus,” he said.
“If you’re asking families to stay at home in one room in a slum, without food or water, that won’t limit virus transmission. I’m concerned that lockdown measures have been copied between countries for lack of knowing what to do, rarely with any contextualisation for the local situation.”
Dr Peterson stressed that the same set of approaches cannot work for all countries and the focus should be on containing the spread of the virus, not just getting people to stay indoors.
The reason, he explained, is that reduced access to healthcare and vaccination for children coupled with a steep rise in poverty and malnutrition will very likely lead to more fatalities than the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said, “Ever since we started counting child deaths and maternal mortality, those numbers have been going down and down and down. And actually these times are unprecedented because we’re very likely to be looking at a scenario where figures are going up.
“That’s not from Covid – Covid is not a children’s disease. Yes, there are rare instances and we see them publicised across the media. But pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, death in childbirth, these are the reasons we will see deaths rise.”
He recommended that instead of blanket lockdowns, regional restrictions that focus on identified hotspots should instead be introduced.
Earlier in April, researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated in a study covering 118 countries that over one million children and 60,000 women could die in the next six months alone due to interruptions in health services.
This suggests present child mortality rates could increase by as much as 45 per cent and maternal mortality by 39 per cent.
“Nonetheless, they show that if routine health care is disrupted – as a result of unavoidable shocks, health system collapse, or intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic – the increase in child and maternal deaths will be devastating,” said Timothy Roberton and Emily Carter, who led the research team.
“We hope these numbers add context as policymakers establish guidelines and allocate resources in the days and months to come.”
Nigeria, which recorded up to 95,000 deaths as a result of malaria in 2018, contributes to up to a quarter of all malaria cases worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The country also has the highest number of pneumonia child deaths in the world, with an estimated 162,000 deaths in 2018 (20 per cent of fatalities across the world).
UNICEF had projected in January that two million children in Nigeria could die in the next decade due to pneumonia and other major diseases unless health services are scaled up significantly.