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UNICEF Warns South Asian Children’s Lives at Risk as COVID Ravages Region

Children wearing protective masks wait to enter the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus railway station, amidst the spread of the COVID-19 in Mumbai, India, April 14, 2021.

The U.N. Children’s Fund is calling for urgent action to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in South Asia who are missing out on routine life-saving vaccinations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Asia, home to nearly two billion people, and more than a quarter of the world’s children, is buckling under the strain of a deadly spike in coronavirus infections.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports one person dies from COVID-19 every 17 seconds. It warns the sheer scale and speed of this new surge is outstripping the ability of countries to provide life-saving treatment. It says many fragile health systems are at the point of collapse.

UNICEF regional director for South Asia, George Laryea-Adjei, says everything must be done to prevent this from happening. Speaking on a video link from Katmandu in Nepal, he says children and mothers depend upon these care facilities for survival.

"During the first wave of COVID last year, an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers died because of disruptions to essential health services, like routine immunization, like care during childbirth, care during pregnancy and so on,” said Laryea-Adjei.

He warns child and maternal deaths are likely to be much higher now because the present COVID-19 surge is four times the size of the first. Laryea-Adjei says UNICEF has been on-the-ground working around the clock since the start of the pandemic. But he adds his agency is short of the supplies and the money it needs to carry out its life-saving operation.

“UNICEF needs $164 million for urgent delivery of oxygen and testing supplies, for medical equipment, for PPE, personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control material,” said Laryea-Adjei.

The UNICEF official blames vaccine inequity for fueling the virus’ rampage across the region. He says most high-risk populations remain unvaccinated and unless this situation is rectified, the virus will continue to spread.

He says the international community must not ignore this reality. He says wealthier countries that have excess vaccines should donate these doses to COVAX, the facility that provides vaccines to poorer countries.

He warns the longer the virus is allowed to spread unchecked, the greater the risk that more deadly or contagious variants will emerge and circulate around the world.