COVID-19 could trigger 'secondary' global health crisis: World Bank

Paris (AFP) –


Diverting the scarce healthcare resources of developing countries to the rapidly expanding COVID-19 pandemic could see a 45 percent jump in child and maternal mortality before the end of the year, an international health consortium warned Thursday.

Unless poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America get a rapid infusion of drugs, medical oxygen, protective equipment and on-the-ground assistance, the global South is likely see 1.2 million children and 57,000 mothers die over the next six months, according to a study under review by The Lancet Global Health.

The new coronavirus outbreak "could reverse decades of progress," said Muhammad Ali Pate, global director for health, nutrition and population at the World Bank and director of the Global Financing Facility.

"If routine healthcare is disrupted -- as a result of unavoidable shocks, health system collapse, or intentional choices in response to the pandemic -- the increase in child and maternal deaths will be devastating," the authors said in a draft submitted for peer review.

While Europe and North America have felt the brunt of the pandemic, with some two million confirmed cases out of a world total of 2.6 million, lockdowns have slowed its spread on these continents even as the virus picks up pace elsewhere.

In Africa, the week leading to April 21 saw a 43 percent jump in COVID-19 cases and a 38 percent increase in the number of COVID-19-related deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Wednesday.

- Economic downturn -

Across 45 countries, the continent registered 15,394 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 716 deaths, for a case/fatality ratio of nearly five percent.

"As COVID-19 cases surge worldwide, the survival of pregnant women and children is at great risk due to strained healthcare systems," commented Stefan Peterson, UNICEF's global chief of health.

The window for strengthening existing facilities -- from rural clinics to megacity hospitals -- and funnelling material to cushion the pandemic's impact is measured in weeks and months, experts say.

One key objective must be to "safeguard life-saving routine immunisation programmes" -- against measles, mumps, typhoid, diphtheria and a dozen other preventable diseases -- "during the COVID-19 response and recovery," noted Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Poor women and their families are also likely to suffer from any economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

A one percent decrease in per capita GDP roughly correlates to a 0.3 percent increase in infant mortality, with girls at least twice as likely to be affected, earlier research has shown.

The International Monetary Fund has shaved six percentage points from its January forecast of the global economy's GDP growth for 2020.

The WHO, meanwhile, said Thursday that the new coronavirus pandemic threatens to severely disrupt access to anti-malaria nets and drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, where 95 percent of malaria cases occur.

Backed by the World Bank, the Global Financing Facility is a consortium of rich and developing countries, along with major philanthropists, dedicated to helping ensure the health and nutrition of women and children worldwide.