Young children face growing death risks in MENA: UNICEF

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Amman: Tens of thousands more children younger than 5 could die in the next six months in the Middle East and North Africa because of the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN agency for children said Monday.

Young children face growing risks because the virus disrupts their access to primary health care, including treatment for severe malnutrition, pneumonia and neonatal sepsis, Ted Chaiban, the regional director of UNICEF, told The Associated Press.

The agency’s estimates are based on a May study by Johns Hopkins University which looked at the indirect effects of the pandemic on maternal and child mortality in low- and middle-income countries.

UNICEF presented forecasts for 10 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with a combined population of 41 million children under 5.

“If we continue to see populations not trusting the health system, not accessing the primary health care system, we could over the next six months see 51,000 more deaths of children under the age of 5, which represents a 40% increase on previous projections,” he said.

In a “best-case scenario,” an additional 11,000 young children would die in the next six months because of the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

Particularly worrisome is the situation in Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti where health care systems were fragile even before the pandemic, he said.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization called on governments in the region to resume immunization campaigns and nutrition services and ensure access to primary health care centers.

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