By Mary Hearty

As COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause havoc globally, health sector is the hardest hit among others. Patients, more so, women and adolescents feel the pinch as they are losing at least 20 percent of their health and social services.

Mothers are unable to access healthcare facilities with their newborns and young children due to closures and movement restrictions to minimize coronavirus spreading. Currently, healthcare workers pay more attention to COVID-19 patients other than pregnant mothers and children.

These maternal health hindrances are according to an Independent Panel of Senior Global Health Experts of Accountability for; Every Woman, Every Child and Every Adolescent.

The panel assessed the impacts of COVID-19 on mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents since January this year.

 “Health systems in both rich and poor nations are massively struggling and the services for mother, newborns, young children and adolescents are crumbling,” Dr Elizabeth Mason, MD, co-chair of the UN Secretary General’s Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) for Every Woman, Every Child, and Every Adolescent said.

Dr Mason explains: “Especially worrisome are declines in access to life-saving vaccines for children and maternal health services due to closures and movement restrictions.”

“Immunization campaigns are being halted and health workers are being diverted from maternity to COVID-19 units,” she added.

IAP estimated that about 5.3 million death cases in children under 5 by pre-pandemic was reported. Moreover, there have been over 400,000 additional deaths caused by disruption in health and social services due to the pandemic.

Before this crisis, there was 2.5 million newborn deaths, and a minimum of 168,000 additional deaths during the pandemic.

On the other hand, there could be an additional 24,400 maternal deaths due to disrupted services caused by coronavirus crisis.

Statistics indicates that 13.5 million children missed vaccinations against life threatening diseases, as more than 20 countries reported vaccine shortages caused by the pandemic.

Furthermore, unexpected pregnancies could come close to 15 million in low- and middle- income countries due to interference of contraceptive supplies.

“These findings show how weak our health systems are at protecting mothers, newborns, young children and adolescents,” Joy Phumaphi, co-chair of the panel and former WHO Assistant Director-General.

“COVID-19 is making a bad situation worse,” Ms Phumaphi emphasized.

Again, COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with constant growth and has resulted in increased poverty and unemployment, and has stirred up inability to access increased support among women.

The panel’s data approximated that almost 66 million children risk falling into extreme poverty. Nearly 370 million children are missing school meals. Besides, women experience increased depression, anxiety and uncertainty.

Since the coronavirus started, about 15 million additional acts of violence against women and girls every three months of lockdown have been reported. In some countries, emergency calls increased by 30 percent.

“The lives’ of every mother, newborn, child and adolescent matter,” Giorgi Pkhakadze, a professor of Epidemiology and Public Health said.

“Quality healthcare is not a luxury, but a life-saving resource.” Pkhakadze added.

UN goals target maternal deaths to decline globally to less than 70 deaths out of every 100,000 live births; newborn deaths in each country to reduce to at most 12 deaths per 1000 live births and children under 5 deaths to reduce to as low as 25 deaths among 1000 births. 

Presently, more than 190 countries have accepted these objectives.

The Independent Accountability Panel 2020 report, calls for leaders to fulfill their commitments and lay out the action needed to address these issues.

Commitments to universal health coverage, primary health care, International Health Regulations and sustainable development, were urgently needed before the pandemic. Now with COVID-19, they are even more important.