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Children Suffering Dire Consequences from India COVID-19 Surge

FILE - A man dressed as a clown distributes face masks to children in a slum area, amidst the coronavirus outbreak, in Mumbai, India, May 3, 2021.

The U.N. children's fund fears the ferocious second wave of COVID-19 in India could spread like wildfire across South Asia and increase multiple health and protection risks for millions of children across the region.

India recorded more than 414,000 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, the highest number in a single day, including more than 3,900 deaths. As cases continue to surge, the U.N. children's fund says the coronavirus is sickening and killing a growing number of children and infants.

Along with the serious health impacts, UNICEF warns that children are facing a multitude of physical, mental, social and economic risks. UNICEF representative in India, Yasmin Ali Haque, says children are losing parents and caregivers to the virus. This is leaving many destitute and without anyone to care for them.

"While there is not enough data yet, we can see that illegal adoption pleas have surfaced on social media, making these orphans vulnerable to trafficking and abuse," Haque said. "Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of violence, as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks."

Health facilities in India are overwhelmed treating COVID-19 patients. As a result, other health needs are suffering. Haque says children are missing out on life-saving routine immunization and treatment for pneumonia and other diseases.

She says there are reports of pregnant women who are unable to find the help they need to give birth. This, she says, could mean the difference between life and death in a country with 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies every year.

"With half of the children under five in India being malnourished, the present COVID-19 crisis could further impact child nutrition and service delivery across the country," Haque said. "Schools across India have remained closed, and remote learning is also disrupted in several states."

Haque says UNICEF is helping the Indian government maintain critical services for the most vulnerable children and that greater efforts are needed to safeguard the well-being of COVID-19 orphans whose numbers are growing. She says steps must be taken to get children back to a safe school environment.

The country representative says UNICEF has sent lifesaving supplies to India, including oxygen concentrators, testing kits and other essential equipment. She says her agency needs $71 million to deliver additional supplies the country desperately needs.