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INDIA: Grave concerns for young children and pregnant women amidst COVID-19 crisis

The UK must begin sharing vaccines with India and other countries where Coronavirus continues to spread


NEW DELHI, 4 May – India could be facing thousands of additional deaths among children under five and an increase in maternal deaths, as hospitals and clinics are directing virtually all their staff and medicines to coping with COVID-19 patients, Save the Children warned today.  

While the mortality rate for children under five has steadily been decreasing over the past decades in India, disruptions to maternal and child health services caused by the current spike in COVID-19 could undo some of the progress made, said .  

As the health system is overstretched due to India’s second wave of corona-cases, new-borns and very young children could miss out on life-saving immunisations or treatment for diarrhoea, pneumonia or severe acute malnutrition. Pregnant women may be unable to access the health care they need, warned Save the Children.   

Especially in rural areas, where access to medical facilities was limited even before the outbreak, the number of affected children and new mothers is likely to rise. Many children’s centres, which were previously providing children with regular meals, have also been shut down, leaving many without access to nutritious food.  

Save the Children issues its warning based on an earlier report, which estimated a 15 percent increase in child mortality due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The estimate did not consider the current wave of cases or the near-collapse of India’s health system – and there are fears that the increase in deaths could now be much higher.  

Dr Rajesh Khanna, Deputy Director of Health and Nutrition at Save the Children in India, said:

“We see it happening before our eyes: young children and mothers are not getting the care they so desperately need. Because of COVID-19, other treatments have come all but to a halt, which is especially dangerous for the very young. Almost one in five children in India are severely malnourished, and many of them need treatment.  

“In some parts of the country people already had to travel an hour just to get to the nearest clinic, and usually these clinics are understaffed and under-resourced – but with the current spike, even these clinics are focusing on COVID-19 patients. That means young mothers must travel even further to get treatment for themselves or their children, and often they can’t afford that. 

“Our teams tell us there are clinics that don’t have anything more than paracetamol to give to people who are ill. The question of oxygen in these areas is a distant one. They are seeing pregnant women in the advanced stages of pregnancy who will have to give birth at home because all the health facilities in their districts are attending to COVID-19 patients. We’re worried that this leaves them at greater risk of complications or even death.  

“We expect the situation to get even worse, because many people are leaving the cities for their home villages as there are no jobs or because they want to be with family. The risk of them bringing the virus with them, is real. As healthcare is already limited in the countryside, we’re heading for a disaster - which will impact young sick children and young mothers hardest.  

“We need the support of the world, plain and simple. This disaster is impacting India deeply, and the country urgently needs support of its allies to keep the health system afloat. Not just for COVID-19 patients, but also for other diseases.” 

Karrar Karrar, Health Advisor, Save the Children UK, said:

“Eventually, the UK is likely to have around 100 million more doses than we need. Given the ongoing success of UK vaccination efforts, millions of doses could be made available to India through the COVAX mechanism. Today our friend and ally, India, needs help. That’s why rich nations must start sharing some of their vaccines with those who need them most, as well as using all available tools to ramp up manufacturing across the world. It’s both in our own interest and the right thing to do to help other countries catch up. 

“We’re calling for the UK to urgently start making the legal and logistical arrangements needed to divert some of its pipeline of vaccines straight from the manufacturers to COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative.”

Save the Children works in close cooperation with the authorities in cities and rural areas in India, where it provides health care supplies to communities, including oxygen, ventilators, and medicines. It also helps people with finding health facilities that are not yet at full capacity, and acts as an intermediary between patients and ambulances. To ensure the health of young children and young mothers, the organisation works in communities to raise awareness on nutrition and health issues. For families who have lost their source of income due to the pandemic, Save the Children has cash grants available.   


Spokespeople available.


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