The suspension or closure of essential health services in Latin America and the Caribbean due to the COVID-19 pandemic can seriously reverse progress in reducing the mortality of women and children in the region, warns a new study supported by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
According The report, a 10% reduction in coverage of essential maternal and child health servicesl could cause up to 28,000 deaths of mothers and 168,000 of newborns.
In addition, the increase in hunger in the midst of the pandemic leads to malnutrition of pregnant women and children, causing possible delayed intrauterine growth, as well as acute and chronic malnutrition during childhood, increasing the risk of death from infectious diseases.
Dr. Arachu Castro, author of the report, assures that 30,000 births are registered daily in the region, of which 4,800 are born to an adolescent mother. According to the expert, most of the countries had managed to reduce mortality caused by pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum and that of children under 5 years of age to the levels recommended by the Sustainable Development Goals.
“But with the partial or total suspension of sexual, reproductive and pediatric health services; with access difficulties due to the lack of public transport; with the fear of being exposed to the coronavirus; and with the increase in malnutrition caused by poverty, thousands of women, children and adolescents run the risk of dying due to lack of health care, and not for COVID-19”, Expresses in a blog posted on the UNDP website.
The study also indicates that, until June 2020, circumstances halved the demand for vaccination services in the 38 countries of the region, and that at least 18 States have reported difficulties in obtaining immunizations and supplies, such as syringes, due to difficulties in transportation and the closure of borders.
Agência Brasil / Elza Fiuza
An increase in overall mortality
The report indicates that in addition to the thousands of deaths from COVID-19 and the suffering caused in the region, comparing the deaths reported from any cause with those of the same period in previous years “may more accurately indicate the impact of the pandemic on the mortality”.
In some weeks, the excess of deaths has been estimated at 185% in Peru, 219% in Mexico and 242% in Ecuador. Those deaths are due to both COVID-19 and the indirect causes produced by the decrease in the provision of health services and by the decrease in the use of these services. It is estimated that the indirect effect of the pandemic on services and on the health of women, children and adolescents is of great magnitude, even greater than that of direct deaths from COVID-19, warns the document.
The increasing number of people with symptoms seeking care collapses health facilities, particularly if they require critical care. Intensive care beds have been insufficient in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama or Peru.
Some countries have designated hospitals to care for exclusively for people with COVID-19, have interrupted the provision of prevention and health promotion services and clinical care and have relocated a part of the health personnel in the most overburdened hospitals, which has left other establishments of personnel and supplies out of supply, warns the author of the study.
© PAHO / Karen González Abril
The need to invest more in health
“In the report Challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in the health of women, children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean, I expose the need to restore essential health services as soon as possible, to reinforce the primary care strategy and to increase public spending on health beyond immediate spending to face the pandemic, ”says Dr. Castro.
The Tulane University expert emphasizes that countries such as Cuba, Costa Rica and Uruguay, which, before the pandemic, had prioritized investment in public health and in strengthening primary care are those that have not suspended care and who are better prepared to prevent more deaths from causes other than COVID-19.
The report also recommends that countries establish public policies with a gender perspective to give priority to women, who are mostly in charge of caring for children, as well as the elderly, people with disabilities and those who suffer violence from their partners.