Covid-19 killed more than 200 young children, Indonesian pediatricians suspect

A child gets his body temperature checked in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on June 17, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - More than 200 children including newborns and those under five years of age are believed to have died from Covid-19 in Indonesia as the virus devastated the country's fragile health system.

The Indonesian Paediatric Society (IDAI) revealed on Thursday (June 25) that at least 1,543 children in Indonesia had tested positive for Covid-19 since the country announced its first coronavirus case in March. Thirty-six of them had died of the disease.

Meanwhile, 6.123 children were categorised under the PDP status, which refers to people that have Covid-19 symptoms but have not been tested for the virus, and 204 of them had died.

"The data is devastating," IDAI chairman Aman Bhakti Pulungan said in a meeting with House of Representatives Commission X, which oversees education.

He noted that the high number of child deaths from the disease that mostly kills the elderly was mainly due to diarrhoea and pneumonia, as well as insufficient time for medical personnel to save them.

"Four of five children come to the hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea," he said, adding that they would report every child with diarrhoea symptoms as a PDP case.

In the most recent case last week, Mr Aman said, an eight-month-old baby died in a remote area before being hospitalised. The baby had asthma and a low blood sugar level.

"There is inequality of data and health services. We cannot merely look at the services in Jakarta but must also look at other regions," he said.

The death of a 40-day-old baby was reported by the Covid-19 task force in Pamekasan, East Java, on Monday. The baby had tested positive for Covid-19 with fever, cough and respiratory problems and is believed to have contracted the virus from neighbours who visited weeks ago.

"We don't lack protection of children, but we lack awareness that they could fall sick and die. We must protect those who are born during the pandemic," Mr Aman said.

No deaths among children have been reported so far in neighbouring Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand.

In Europe and the United States, meanwhile, doctors have seen a sharp surge of a severe immune disorder in children linked to Covid-19. At least five under-18s in Britain, three in the United States and one in France have died from the syndrome.

An analysis by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in The Lancet Global Health journal in May, estimated an additional 1.2 million maternal and under-five deaths could occur in just six months due to a reduction in routine health service coverage and an increase in child wasting based on the worst of three scenarios in 118 low- and middle-income countries.

Based on the analysis, Unicef estimates an additional 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to weaken health systems and disrupt routine services.

"Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthday could increase for the first time in decades," said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

As of Thursday, around 7.9 per cent of 50,187 people found to be Covid-19-positive in Indonesia are children below 17 years of age, which would mean at least 3,964 children are infected with Sars-CoV-2 in the country, according to the official Covid-19 figures.

Children, according to the official figures, account for 1.6 per cent of the 2,620 people confirmed to have died of Covid-19, which would mean about 42 children have died with the virus.

According to a preliminary analysis by the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, many children are infected with the virus because of poor hygiene or an unhealthy lifestyle, indicators of which include failure to frequently wash one's hands with soap, to eat fruits and vegetables in sufficient amounts and do daily physical exercise.

As the number of cases among children increases, the IDAI and the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) have stated that the government should not reopen schools yet, following the Education and Culture Ministry's announcement that the country will allow phased reopening of schools located in Covid-19 low-risk areas, or "green zones", starting in July.

"Not all students in schools in the green zone come from the green areas too. They could come from the yellow or red zones," KPAI chairman Susanto said.

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