Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has raised the alarm that no fewer than 171,000 children (950 daily) may die in Nigeria in next six months due to disruption in routine medical services and threats to an already weakened health care system in the country.
It said that about 6,800 more Nigerian maternal deaths could also occur in next six months.
UNICEF also suggested that globally 6,000 children under the age of five could die every day based on an analysis by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, newly published in The Lancet Global Health journal.
It said that in Nigeria the potential child deaths would be in addition to the 475,200 children who already die before their fifth birthday every six months, thus threatening to reverse a decade of progress in ending preventable under-five child mortality in Nigeria.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, in a statement released in Abuja on Wednesday, said “under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthday could increase for the first time in decades. We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus.”
UNICEF Nigeria’s Country Representative Peter Hawkins said: “We have made steady progress in reducing preventable child and maternal deaths in Nigeria over the last 20 years and it would be devastating if that progress is lost or reversed. It will be devasting for Nigerian families, communities and for the country as a whole.”
He said that under-five mortality rate has declined gradually over the last two decades in Nigeria, from hitherto 213 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 120 in 2020. This, he said, is likely due to improved access and coverage of key life-saving interventions at primary health care and community levels and improved immunization rates.
He added: “In countries with still overall weak health systems like Nigeria, 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 as communities remain fearful of infection.”
UNICEF predicted that the 10 countries most likely to witness the highest excess child mortality rates under the worst-case scenario are: Djibouti, Eswatini, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Somalia.