By G9ija

United Nations (UN) agencies have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse decades of progress made at eliminating preventable child deaths.

The anxiety followed new mortality estimates released yesterday by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank Group wherein the under-five deaths of an all-time low of 5.2 million in 2019 had been endangered by the disruptions in child and maternal health services on account of the epidemic.

The development, has sadly, put lives of more millions at stake.

This comes as the United Nations (UN) in Nigeria, also yesterday, said safeguarding education from the attack was urgently needed in restoring confidence in schools as places of protection for children and teachers.

The suggestion is against the backdrop that the disease had somewhat affected the lives of about 46 million primary and secondary pupils across the most populous black nation owing to the long closure of schools.

Speaking on the plan by some state governments to reopen institutions of learning after the prolonged lockdowns, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon, stressed the need to include in the pandemic response measures that could engender a resilient education system that withstands future shocks.

According to him, prioritising the safety in schools for educators and learners is an indication of government’s commitment to protecting investments in the sector and a validation of Nigeria’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.

He spoke as the world marks the first-ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack under the theme, “Protect Education, Save a Generation”, adding that over three million children in the conflict-affected states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe were in need of education-in-emergency support.

The UN agencies noted that the number of under-five fatalities globally went down from 12.5 million in 1990 dropped to 5.2 million last year.

In May, initial modelling by Johns Hopkins University, United States showed that almost 6,000 additional children could die daily due to coronavirus disruptions.

Until now, surveys by UNICEF and WHO revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted health services and threaten to undo decades of hard-won progress.

According to the global organisations, over the past 30 years, millions of lives had been saved via treatment or prevention of preterm, low birth weight, child delivery complications, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria besides vaccination.

Currently, nations across the globe are experiencing interruptions to the child and maternal healthcare due to resource constraints and the devastating impact of the pandemic.

A UNICEF study conducted over the summer across 77 countries found that almost 68 per cent of those sampled reported at least one form of dislocation or the other in health checks for children and immunisation services. In addition, 63 per cent of them posted disruptions in antenatal checkups and 59 per cent in post-natal care.

A recent WHO investigation of 105 countries revealed that 52 per them complained of disturbances to health services for sick children and 51 per cent talked of disorderliness in their malnutrition management operations.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, submitted: “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.”

WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, added: “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.

“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.”