COVID-19: 30 million children’s lives at risk from secondary effects of deadly disease

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- A new report from World Vision, reveals secondary impacts will threaten many more children’s lives than COVID-19 itself.
- As many as 30 million children’s lives are in danger.
Merlin Benson and her nine-month-old daughter Sarah, wash their hands after a COVID-19 information session at a World Vision South Sudan nutrition centre in Juba. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles Duku 
(April 08, 2020)
Aftershocks, a new report released today by World Vision reveals that COVID-19 will put the lives of millions of children in danger from other diseases and increased food insecurity. 

The report analyses the devastating secondary impacts on children during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and models what would happen if they were replicated in the current crisis. Weak health systems could quickly be overwhelmed, putting millions of lives at risk, according to the agency. Aftershocks focuses on these consequences in the 24 most fragile countries covered by the UN’s COVID-19 humanitarian appeal. 

Key findings:
  • Secondary impacts will threaten many more children’s lives than COVID-19 itself. Current child deaths are low because severe novel coronavirus infections are rare among children.
  • As many as 30 million children’s lives are in danger from secondary health impacts:
    • 26 million+ children at greater risk of being exposed to other deadly diseases for lack of immunisation
    • 5 million+ children could suffer from increasing malnutrition, an increase of almost 40% from current levels 
    • 100,000+ children could die from malaria, a 50% increase from current levels

Andrew Morley, World Vision International President and CEO, says: “We are wrong if we think this is not a children’s disease. Experience tells us that when epidemics overwhelm health systems, the impact on children is deadly. They are the most vulnerable as other diseases and malnutrition go untreated. COVID-19 has become a devastating pandemic, but the secondary impacts will likely be a lot worse for children in fragile contexts. We are called to act now. Strengthen the systems before they fail. It is not too late, but it soon will be.” 
World Vision, which launched a major emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in 2015, analysed various impacts including reduced access to healthcare, decreased immunisations and a rise in malnutrition. The report demonstrates that the combination of pre-existing weak health systems, populations with high need, and this current pandemic may lead to catastrophic mortality for children.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 will hit the world’s most fragile places like an earthquake. The aftershocks will be a far greater threat to children than the disease itself,” says Michael Messenger, President and CEO of World Vision Canada. “That’s why we’re asking Canada, and all Canadians, to continue to help mitigate the devastating impact this pandemic could have on people living in the margins. Canada can focus on responses here at home, and for the world’s most vulnerable. That’s the Canadian way.”
The report comes as World Vision launches its US$80 million response plan to combat the effects of the virus. With the majority of its more than 37,000 staff being locally based, the organisation has been responding since January to the initial outbreak in Asia, and plans to reach 22.5 million people across 17 priority countries.