Disruptions in child and maternal health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic are putting millions of additional lives at stake. According to new mortality estimates released by UNICEF and WHO, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to health services that threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress.

A UNICEF survey conducted over the summer 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 per cent of countries reported disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 per cent in post-natal care.

“The global community has come too far towards eliminating preventable child deaths to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to stop us in our tracks,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. 

“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.”

A recent WHO survey based on responses from 105 countries revealed that 52 per cent of countries reported disruptions in health services for sick children and 51 per cent in services for management of malnutrition.

"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 health and well-being at the centre of our response,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“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.”

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 having skilled health workers to care for them at birth. Working with parents to assuage their fears and reassure them is also important.