“Health systems are under such strain that in some places routine services have been suspended. Everything is devoted to the fight against COVID-19.”
While the world has focused all its attention on the COVID-19 pandemic, other infectious diseases continue to kill millions of people, including many children in developing countries, as is the case in Africa, the United Nations warns.
“Health systems are under such strain that in some places routine services have been suspended. Everything is devoted to the fight against COVID-19,” the Head of UNICEF’s immunization service Robin Nandy told AFP. “The states want to limit the contacts of health professionals with potential patients."
Last April, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children’s Fund (UNICEF) had already warned that as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, more than 117 million children in 37 countries could stop receiving the measles vaccine, which protects their lives.
"Measles immunization campaigns have already been delayed in 24 countries and it is expected that additional campaigns will need to be postponed in a larger number of countries," they said.
Measles cases, despite having a safe and effective vaccine for more than 50 years, have increased in recent years and claimed more than 140,000 lives in 2018, mostly of children and babies, all of them preventable. Children younger than 12 months are more likely to die from complications of this disease. So, if the virus’s circulation is not stopped, its risk of exposure will increase daily, health professionals warn.
More than 2,500 children also die every day from pneumonia, a bacterial infection that can be treated with effective and inexpensive medicines. More than 800,000 deaths could be prevented each year, according to studies.
In Nigeria, where pneumonia is the leading cause of child death, there are fears that COVID-19 is already preventing many children from accessing care.
“We see many children coming in with respiratory problems. Both diagnosis and treatment are problematic for us,” the Director of Health for UNICEF Nigeria Sanjana Bhardwaj said.
Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the Democratic Republic of Congo was already suffering from several epidemics.
Measles has killed 6,000 people, mostly children since the last epidemic began in 2019. Malaria is also a constant threat to infants, killing about 13,000 people each year.
In April, the World Health Organization was preparing to announce the end of the Ebola epidemic in the country. However, it had to delay its announcement with the emergence of new cases.
“There were already significant morbidities,” along with malnutrition, “which affects children badly,” Alex Mutanganyi, who is in charge of the fight against COVID-19 in the DRC for the NGO Save the Children said.
“COVID-19 has only increased the number of these threats," he said.