UNICEF health chief warns ‘indiscriminate lockdowns’ could cause more harm in poorer nations

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The chief of health at the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is warning that lockdowns meant to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus could cause more harm than the virus itself in “low- and middle-income countries.”

Dr. Stefan Paterson said in an interview with The Telegraph published Wednesday that indirect effects from people avoiding health services for fear of contracting the coronavirus could lead to widespread problems. 

“Indiscriminate lockdown measures do not have an optimal effect on the virus,” Paterson said. “If you’re asking families to stay at home in one room in a slum, without food or water, that won’t limit virus transmission.”

He said countries should not be automatically copying what others do in response to the virus. 

“I’m concerned that lockdown measures have been copied between countries for lack of knowing what to do, rarely with any contextualization for the local situation,” he told The Telegraph. 

“One size fits no one. The objective is to slow the virus, not to lock down people. We need to lift our eyes and look at the total picture of public health,” he added. 

Paterson said the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is turning into a “child’s rights crisis,” with child deaths and maternal mortality likely to go up. 

“That’s not from COVID — COVID is not a children’s disease. Yes, there are rare instances, and we see them publicized across the media. But pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, death in childbirth, these are the reasons we will see deaths rise,” he said. “These threats far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus in low- and middle-income countries.”

He urged countries to focus on identifying local outbreaks to put in place regional restrictions, as opposed to strict lockdowns nationwide. 

The Telegraph cited a report published in the Lancet Global Health journal Wednesday that found almost 1.2 million children could die worldwide in the next six months due to disruptions to health services and food supplies caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The modeling by researchers at UNICEF and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found child mortality rates could rise by as much as 45 percent and maternal deaths could increase by almost 39 percent, according to The Telegraph. 

The modeling reportedly projected that India would see the largest number of additional deaths of children under 5, as well as spikes in maternal mortality. The modeling found Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Indonesia will also likely be hit hard, according to The Telegraph. 

Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 4.3 million people and killed 298,185 people, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Tags Coronavirus maternal mortality Public health Stefan Paterson UNICEF
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