The humanitarian crisis no one is hearing about

Sep 10, 2020


Baby receiving ORS

Interrupted access to pneumonia and diarrhea medicines could account for almost half of the additional deaths during COVID-19, according to recent estimates.


Child health is at one of the most critical inflection points in recent history. Newly published estimates from UNICEF show that in 2019, the number of under-five deaths were at an all-time recorded low of 5.2 million.

Then COVID-19 happened, disrupting access to the lifesaving tools responsible for saving millions of children’s lives.

Drawing on estimates published in The Lancet Global Health in May, PATH’s advocacy team has quantified the consequences of COVID-19-related disruptions to health services like routine immunization.

"The estimates we are looking at indicate that in the first year of the pandemic, we'll lose 2.3 million children just from the disruption to services due to COVID alone — the entire population of Houston. It's really significant. And, that's on top of the 5.3 million kids we're already losing every year from preventable causes," says Heather Ignatius, director of PATH’s US and global advocacy team.

An article published in Axios provides some additional context for these numbers:

'Background: Before the coronavirus hit, the world was admittedly not on track to meet most of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it had made progress in improving child and maternal health. 

  • In May, researchers published a study in The Lancet projecting best and worst scenarios from COVID-19, but warning that maternal and under-5 child deaths were likely to grow from the disease as well as from disruption of health systems and decreased access to food.
  • In July, the UN announced that COVID-19 had "reversed decades of progress."

The latest: 90% of the 105 responding nations in a recent WHO pulse survey said they experienced at least some disruption to their essential health services.'

As with most health emergencies, children are hit hardest by the cascading effects, despite being largely spared from the deadly impact of COVID-19 itself. While these trends are distressing, we know we have the tools and the know-how to fix this, and we need your help to hold policymakers accountable.

As lawmakers reconvene this fall, and after donor countries find success in quelling the pandemic within their borders, we can’t forget the children around the world who will bear long-term impacts of these disruptions long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.

Our COVID-19 campaign page has resources to help you raise awareness about access to essential medicines like ORS and zinc, routine immunization, investments in handwashing, and other high-impact interventions that will help keep children healthy during and beyond COVID-19.

At the beginning of this year, fewer children were dying than ever before. We can’t let COVID-19 slow our momentum.