New Delhi: An additional 5,00,000 deaths due to Covid-19 are possible in South Asia, between October 2020 and September 2021, with over 4,90,000 projected to occur in India, a new United Nations report states.
The report, released Wednesday, analysed Covid data from six countries — India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal — and calculated the number of individuals that are expected to succumb to the virus, who would not have died in the absence of it. In other words, it projected the additional deaths likely to take place.
Titled ‘Direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and response in South Asia’, the report assessed the impact of severe disruptions in health services due to the pandemic on the health and nutrition of poor and vulnerable families, as well as young children.
These disruptions in health services include sharp drops in childhood immunisations and number of children treated for severe acute malnutrition among other services.
The report estimated that disruptions in health services may have resulted in an additional 2,39,000 child and maternal deaths in South Asia in 2020.
It also placed India highest in terms of estimated hospitalisations and ICU admissions till September 2021.
“We now know that a one-size fits-all mitigation response may not have been the right course of action, and in some cases such as India, perhaps applied too early, given the continuing spike in cases, and for too long in light of the impact on the economy,” states the report.
India estimated to rank highest in child, maternal deaths
Due to health service disruptions, the number of deaths among children below 5 years of age are also estimated to increase by a total of 2,28,641 across the six South Asian countries in 2020 compared to 2019, notes the report.
The greatest increase is expected to be seen in India with 1,54,020 deaths (a 15 per cent increase) and in Pakistan with 59,251 deaths (a 14 per cent increase).
Similarly, the number of maternal deaths in 2020 is also estimated to have increased last year with the highest number anticipated in India (7,750 deaths, which is an 18 per cent increase) and Pakistan (2,069 deaths, a 21 per cent increase).
The report adds: “Due to the observed and expected reduction in coverage of modern contraceptive methods, more than 3.5 million additional unintended pregnancies are expected in South Asia, with the highest number likely in India (~3 million).”
To beat Covid, India will bear highest cost in South Asia
The report estimates that the virus has cost the South Asian region more than $2.4 billion, including cost of testing ($1.9 billion) and healthcare utilisation for Covid-19 deaths ($581 million).
If the current status quo in terms of testing, infection control and prevention is maintained, the region is expected to spend an additional $8.1 billion on testing and between $520 million and $2.4 billion on healthcare utilisation by September 2021, says the report.
India will bear the largest share of these costs and will have to spend more than $7.8 billion on testing and $1.7 billion on healthcare utilisations by September 2021, it adds.
The report also predicted that due to prolonged school closures amid the pandemic, almost 9 million primary and secondary school-aged children are expected to permanently drop out of schools, with the highest number expected in India at 70,17,721.
Meanwhile, the projection for school dropouts is 6,64,999 in Pakistan, 6,28,602 in Bangladesh, 6,28,602 in Nepal, 1,62,851 in Afghanistan and 1,36,706 in Sri Lanka.
The report notes that lower education will result in a 15 to 23 per cent decrease in the future lifetime earnings of South Asians, costing the region $63.5 billion over 45 years.
The highest cost will be borne by India ($52.8 billion) and Bangladesh ($7.4 billion), followed by Sri Lanka ($1.9 billion), states the report.
(Edited by Rachel John)