According to a recent UN report, 228,000 deaths of children below 5 years of age in South Asia may have been caused by the Coronavirus disruptions in 2020.
The disruptions ranged from nutrition benefits to immunization and the increasing food insecurity due to the pandemic lockdowns. The study focused on six countries: Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka which is home to about 1.8 billion people.
Women, children and adolescents were the worst hit during the lockdown, says the report titled 'Direct and Indirect Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia'. The study analyzed the effect of government strategies on healthcare, social services, including schools and the economy.
In Bangladesh and Nepal, the number of young children being treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is recorded to have fallen by over 80 per cent. In India and Pakistan, child vaccinations also fell sharply.
While the highest child mortality rate in 2020 was reported in India (15 per cent), followed by Bangladesh (13 per cent), Sri Lanka (21.5 per cent) saw the sharpest increase in maternal deaths followed by Pakistan (21.3 per cent).
The data also shows that about 3.5 million unwanted pregnancies with 400,000 among teenagers were reported in 2020, due to poor access to contraception.
Interruption to the services in health sector also contributed to the death of an additional 5,943 adolescents who couldn't get treated for tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid and HIV or AIDS in 2020
The report also added that with 420 million children not going to school in the pandemic, about nine million among them were likely to never return to school even after the pandemic is over which could further increase the cases of child marriages.
Prioritisation of services for pregnant women, adolescents and children; strengthening food systems to ensure a resilient supply of nutritious and affordable foods; and delivery of immunisations and ensuring adequate personal protective equipment supply were some of the measures suggested in the report to improve the status quo.