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Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts and international organizations have warned of the consequences of a health crisis such as the current one on the increase in infant and maternal mortality in the world. And the indicators have begun to confirm this fear. The new waves of coronavirus that are hitting Asia again, especially in India, the second most infected country in the world, have caused interruptions in vaccination services, care during pregnancy and childbirth, which is suspected are the key factors in the increase in the number of deaths of this population group.
“South Asia is home to almost 2 billion people and more than a quarter of the world’s children. The region now accounts for half of new coronavirus infections […] We need to act now, quickly, to save lives. But we also have to do everything in our power to maintain critical health care services that children and mothers They depend so much ”, warned on May 25 the Unicef regional director for South Asia, George Laryea-Adjei, during a UN press conference at its headquarters in Geneva.
But the alerts of a possible increase in infant and maternal mortality had already jumped during the first wave of the pandemic in the Asian region. An estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers in South Asia died from severe disruptions to essential health services from the pandemic, according to the report. Direct and indirect effects of the covid-19 pandemic and the response in South Asia published last March by Unicef. The study, which focuses on the countries of Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka confirms that they, along with adolescents they are the main victims of this situation.
This same report indicates that in the pandemic so far, the number of children receiving treatment for severe malnutrition has fallen by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal, and immunization has decreased by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan. , respectively. For its part, Sri Lanka is the country in the region where maternal deaths have increased the most: 21.5%, followed by 21.3% registered in Pakistan.
The same study also confirms that infant mortality peaked in India in 2020, reaching 15.4%, followed by Bangladesh, with 13%. “With 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies each year, essential services to help women give birth are critical in India. However, as the health facilities continue to be saturated to treat patients with covid-19, news reaches us that there are pregnant women who are struggling to find the necessary support to give birth ”, contextualized Yamin Ali Haque, the UNICEF representative in the country , at a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva in early May.
The double tragedy of children in India
Children are experiencing one of the most dramatic moments in India, hit by a second wave of coronavirus that has already left 27 million infected and where the number of deaths is above 4,000 a day. “Along with the increase in cases, the impact on minors has also increased affected by the virus. They are living a tragedy ”, Ali Haque assured.
With 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies each year, essential services to help women give birth are critical in India
The increase in cases has also meant that this second wave of covid-19 has affected more people of all age groups, including the youngest. “Families often live together. Where the grandparents are, there are also the parents, children and grandchildren and nephews. So when the virus enters a house, it is everyone’s turn, including the little ones ”, contextualizes Joana Pérez Martorell from Delhi, UNICEF spokesperson in the country, on the increase in infections among minors by variant B.1.617.
The other problem that childhood faces is that many children and adolescents are losing their parents and caregivers due to covid-19, leaving them in a situation of absolute helplessness. “From Unicef we are activating new protocols to face this reality for those who are left without a family,” says Pérez Martorell. UNICEF has been observing since the beginning of the second wave how requests for illegal adoption have appeared on social networks after the increase in orphans in the country, a situation that places them in a more vulnerable position to trafficking and abuse.
With half of the children under five are malnourished, the current health crisis could have an even greater impact on child nutrition and the provision of essential services throughout the country, as warned by UNICEF. “We have focused our efforts on obtaining equipment such as oxygen concentrators, which will obviously help in this crisis, but will also remain in the country for the next 20 years. In the future they may be useful in curing diseases such as pneumonia, which kills millions of them. In this way we try to strengthen the health system and help those who need it most ”, explains Pérez Martorell.
Another challenge that children face is dealing with the stress generated by confinement and school closings. The situation has kept 247 million students away from Primary and Secondary Education throughout the country for more than a year, where to study remotely remains a challenge for many.
“With the confinement and this second wave I feel like I am losing my life. My school, the desert streets… Everything is closed. It’s sad because I feel like I can’t do anything and I have to be very careful not to get infected ”. Ansarul is 17 years old and lives in a house in Sigra, a shanty town on the outskirts of Benares, with his mother, Hasina, and other brothers and nephews. His city, like the rest of the state of Uttar Pradesh, is in strict confinement. Hundreds of families, like Hajina and Ansarul’s, once again face a situation of extreme vulnerability, as they depend on informal jobs to eat. Semilla para el Cambio, a Spanish NGO that has been working in the city for 10 years, has begun to distribute non-perishable food among the community from this neighborhood and from Dashashwamedh, on the banks of the Ganges. “I hope this ends very soon because it is a very difficult situation for everyone,” laments Ansarul.