Deaths from preventable disease in children under five could rise by almost 45 percent over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic diverts scarce health resources in developing countries, a UN report said Tuesday.
Poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America could see an additional 1.2 million infants die over the period, according to the study published by The Lancet Global Health.
About 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in six months, beyond the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same 118 countries, a rise of about 40 percent.
The findings were based on a computer model that calculated the impact of a reduction in family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services.
"Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.
"We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost."
The greatest number of additional child deaths would come from under nourishment, and a reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.
The study found that the 10 countries that could have the largest number of additional child deaths were Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania.
UNICEF said it was especially alarmed at the knock-on effects of the pandemic.
This included tens of million of children missing out on measles vaccinations, and some 370 million children who normally rely on school meals having to look for other sources of food.
UNICEF said it was launching a new global campaign called "#Reimagine" to prevent the pandemic becoming a lasting crisis for children.
The organization is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to respond.