Charity warns 6,000 child deaths a month in poorer countries because of Covid pressures

Thousands of children are likely to have died every month because of the impact of coronavirus on health systems in poorer countries, a Scottish charity has found.

In low- and middle-income countries, surging Covid cases saw health systems buckle, a new report by Edinburgh-based charity KidsOR found, with its researchers estimating the collateral effects saw at least 6,000 children die each month during the pandemic.

There were significant changes in the demographic and clinical characteristics of patients operated on pre- and post-Covid – with more healthier and wealthier patients treated – with the charity saying the findings raise concerns about hidden morbidity and mortality amongst poorer people.

Because healthier people were more likely to get treatment, they experienced better outcomes, with a 50% drop in the number of people getting sepsis, infection or dying after surgery.

David Cunningham (pictured), the charity’s chief executive, said: “The study suggests the improvements likely reflect a change in the patient population, where sicker patients may not be getting the required care due to increased barriers to access healthcare during the pandemic.

“Our findings add to the growing evidence of hidden morbidity and excess mortality during the pandemic from patients delaying care and potentially dying at home, especially in rural and underserved areas.”

Researchers from the charity and the University of California found there was a sharp drop in the number of operations following the initial outbreak, in March to April 2020, which was in contrast to the trend set beforehand.

Overall, the figure has been slow to recover, KidsOR said, with the total number of operations still not back to pre-Covid levels.

Researchers said that in richer parts of the world there was more resources to help manage Covid surges, but in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) their healthcare systems have been overwhelmed and worsened by harder-to-access protective equipment and vaccines.

Mr Cunningham said: “The findings of our study are particularly concerning as many LMIC have reported surges of Covid cases in recent months.

“The lack of easily accessible data in LMIC has made it difficult to assess the true impact of Covid-19 and track trends.

“These factors all combine to not only prolong the reduction in surgical capacity in LMIC, but also make it difficult to co-ordinate and plan recovery strategies.”

KidsOR, launched by husband-and-wife philanthropists Garreth and Nicola Wood, works to improve children’s access to surgery at hospitals in poorer countries.

So far, it has installed 50 paediatric operating rooms across Africa and aims to more than double those facilities to 120 by 2030.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) KidsOR.