By Edward Samuel, Abuja
Over the past 30 years, health services to prevent or treat causes of child death such as premature birth, low birth weight, complications during birth, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, as well as vaccination, have played a large role in saving millions of lives.
In recent times, countries worldwide are experiencing disruptions in child and maternal health services, such as health checkups, vaccinations, prenatal and post-natal care, due to resource constraints and a general agitation with using health services due to fears of contacting COVID-19 pandemic.
World Health Organization survey based on responses from 105 countries shows that, 52 percent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 percent in services for management of malnutrition, also, a survey conducted by UNICEF over the year across 77 countries found that almost 68 per cent of countries reported at least some disruption in health checks for children and immunization services, in addition, 63 percent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 percent in post-natal care.
The Executive Director United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Dr Henrietta Fore says, the global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks, “When children are denied access to health services because the system is overrun, and when women are afraid to give birth at the hospital for fear of infection, they, too, may become casualties of COVID-19. Without urgent investments to re-start disrupted health systems and services, millions of children under five, especially newborns, could die.” Henrietta Fore said.
According to the WHO, health interventions such as these are critical for stopping preventable newborn and child deaths. For instance, women who receive care by professional midwives trained according to internationals standards are 16 percent less likely to lose their babies and 24 percent less likely to experience premature birth.
The Director General WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, the fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts the health and well-being of its citizens at the centre of it reactions, “Now, we must not let the COVID-19 pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations. Rather, it’s time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems.” Ghebreyesus added.
The most commonly cited reasons during the survey shows, health service disruptions includes parents avoiding health centers for fear of infection, transport restrictions, suspension or closure of services and facilities, fewer healthcare workers due to diversions or fear of infection due to shortages in personal protective equipment; such as masks and gloves; and greater financial difficulties. Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen are among the hardest hit countries.
Notwithstanding, these reports and surveys highlight the need for urgent action to restore and improve childbirth services and antenatal and postnatal care for mothers and babies, including employing skilled health workers to care for them at birth. Working with parents to ease their fears and reassure them is also important as the media is not left out with proper advocacy and enlightenment during programs as community leaders also have a vital role to play especially in rural areas.
Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate said, COVID-19 pandemic has put years of global progress to end preventable child deaths in serious jeopardy, he said It is essential to protect lifesaving services which have been key to reducing child mortality. “We will continue to work with governments and partners to reinforce healthcare systems to ensure mothers and children get the services they need.”Dr. Muhammad added.