An expert at the Health Information Management System says when all the data for this year comes in, it is bound to be much higher than last year. This means the lockdown has pushed Nepal back in meeting its health targets under the United Nations’ SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
Under the SDG target, Nepal is supposed to bring child mortality down further to 25 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030. Persistent childhood malnutrition is a major reason for infant and child mortality remaining high despite dramatic progress in the 1990s. Figures for stunting, wasting and anaemia in Nepal have plateaued in the last decade Now, the lockdown has added to the challenge.
Says Elke Wisch, UNICEF Representative to Nepal: “Progress made on children’s nutrition in the last decade is at risk of being reversed as rising numbers of children are facing malnutrition due to loss of household income and resulting food insecurity. The social and economic loss for Nepal resulting from the deterioration in children’s nutrition status will be felt long after the COVID 19 crisis is over.”
The lockdown has also disrupted vaccination campaigns across the country, leading to measles outbreaks in Dhading and Gorkha in April. Although regular immunisation services have now been restored in health facilities in all 77 districts, parents have been unable to take their children for shots because of restrictions on transportation and also because of the fear of COVID-19 transmission in health posts.
In fact, the WHO and UNICEF earlier this week stated that preliminary data for the first four months of 2020 points to a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3), first time in 28 years. Moreover, at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunised than ever before,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself.”
With schools closed for the past four months, children in many schools are also not getting their lunches. Domestic violence has also seen a spike during the lockdown, with many of the victims children. There is also evidence of a rise in child marriage anxiety, stress and mental disorder
Nepal appears to be on track to proving correct the grim prediction in May by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that 1.2 million children worldwide could die from pre-existing diseases like malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea in the next six months due to the disruption to health services and food supplies due to the lockdown. That makes 6,000 fatalities a day – a whopping 45% rise in child mortality.
“Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warned. “We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost.”