By Robin Gomes
The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, is calling on South Asian governments to do everything possible to stop the catastrophe of Covid-19 as soon as possible, saying the virus is disproportionately hitting children in greater numbers.
“The deadly new surge in South Asia threatens us all. It has the potential to reverse hard-earned global gains against the pandemic if not halted as soon as possible,” warned George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, in a statement on Tuesday.
He urged governments to “do everything within their power to stop the devastation”, and those able to send assistance to do so immediately. “The international community must step up without delay. This is not just a moral imperative”, he said.
Laryea-Adjei also reiterated the importance of individual responsibility. “Every decision we make has the potential to alter the course of this surge – and to either safeguard or endanger the lives of those around us. We may be exhausted, but the virus is not”, he stressed.
The UNICEF official also reminded all of their “individual responsibility” to wear masks, wash hands thoroughly with soap, keep physical distances, and get vaccinated if they have the opportunity to do so.
As countries are trying to respond to the public health emergency, the UNICEF official said “we cannot forget the profound impacts of the pandemic on children”. “Children are being directly affected by the disease in higher numbers than ever before. They are losing parents and caregivers, becoming witnesses to scenes no child should ever see, and being cut off from their schools and vital support networks.”
As resources are diverted and services saturated, he said, the essential health services they so heavily rely on – including routine immunization programmes - are now at risk of being compromised, if not shuttered entirely. “If this happens, it will once more be the most vulnerable children and families who will suffer most.”
Laryea-Adjei pointed out that the first wave of the pandemic caused drastic cuts in the availability and use of essential public health services in South Asia, costing us the lives of an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers. He said everything must be done “to keep essential health, immunization and nutrition services running - and make sure women and children
Infections surging across South Asia
The UN’s World Health Organization points to alarming surges in infections in South Asia, with India accounting for over 90 percent of infections and deaths in the region. India also accounted for 46 percent of global cases and 25 percent of global deaths reported in the past week.
India's official count of Covid-19 cases surpassed 20 million Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. The country’s official average of newly confirmed cases per day has soared from over 65,000 on April 1 to about 370,000, and deaths per day have officially gone from over 300 to more than 3,000.
The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also reported increasing caseloads. The situation is particularly alarming in Nepal, where cases recorded a 137 percent rise this week, reaching the highest levels since the pandemic started last year, severely straining its fragile health system and resulting in a dire shortage of hospital beds, intensive care units and critical medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and oxygen concentrators.
The Nepalese Government last week announced a lockdown in many locations across the country, including in Kathmandu valley, and suspended domestic flights to stem the spread of the virus.
Pakistan is also experiencing a major surge in COVID-19 and the number of cases increased rapidly in recent weeks, with daily cases reaching a seven-day average of 5,500 cases per day, up from an average of 1,100 cases per day in February.
Low vaccination levels
Laryea-Adjei warned of the danger that very low levels of vaccination in South Asia could lead to the virus spiraling out of control even further. “In almost all countries in the region, with the exception of Maldives and Bhutan, fewer than 1 in 10 people have been vaccinated,” he said, stressing, “None of us are safe until all of us are safe.”