The spread of COVID-19 is overwhelming already fragile healthcare systems, and the demand for services is high while resources are limited.
Rabat – The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has registered over 600,000 cases of COVID-19 as of June 15, putting already struggling healthcare systems in an even more delicate position. UNICEF officials warn that mortality rates for MENA children under the age of five could increase by 40% by the end of 2020.
Low levels of public spending on health have left healthcare systems in the MENA region with a reputation of underperformance, even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Child mortality rates are high in the region, with a baseline of 133,000 deaths every six months for children under the age of five.
The spread of COVID-19 is now further overwhelming healthcare systems, and the demand for services is high while resources are limited. Nations across the region have imposed lockdowns or curfews to curb infections, making it harder for citizens to leave their houses. Many worry about coming into contact with an infected patient when visiting the hospital for unrelated reasons, leaving children and mothers especially vulnerable to missing out on vital care.
In a joint press release on June 14, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that “an additional 51,000 children under the age of five might die in the region by the end of 2020 if the current disruption of essential health and nutrition services is protracted and malnutrition among children increases.”
The WHO has warned that rates of child malnutrition could soar because of the pandemic. As COVID-19 spreads in countries where child malnutrition rates are already high, lockdowns, economic downturn, and supply chain disruptions leave them with increased vulnerability.
Urging action to prevent reversing progress
According to the new report, further disruption of critical services could reverse the decline in child mortality rates that the region has witnessed over the past two decades.
Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, said on April 15 that “up to 117 million children could miss out on vaccines due to the global pandemic.”
UNICEF and WHO called for the prioritization of health and nutrition services for pregnant women and young children while working to curb infections.
The two organizations emphasized the importance of “the full and safe resumption of vaccination campaigns and nutrition services” and providing “access to primary health care services for every child.”
“Equip the community outreach teams across the region with the minimum requirements for infection prevention and control,” the organizations urged.
WHO and UNICEF also stressed the need for “investment in effective public communication and community engagement initiatives to increase trust in public health systems.”
Upon taking these suggestions into consideration, healthcare systems in the MENA region could prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of children and reduce COVID-19’s societal impact.