Coronavirus pandemic

Over 300 kids may have died of Covid-19 in Indonesia

Health care workers collect specimen samples from a child during a Covid-19 swab test in Surabaya, on July 20, 2020.
Health care workers collect specimen samples from a child during a Covid-19 swab test in Surabaya, on July 20, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

More than 300 children in Indonesia, including newborns and those under the age of six, are believed to have died of Covid-19, a phenomenon that could see the country having the world's highest rate of child deaths from the coronavirus.

This is the gloomy forecast of the Indonesian Paediatric Society (IDAI), which reported 51 child deaths since March 17 out of the 2,712 confirmed Covid-19 cases among children as of Monday.

It further pointed out that another 290 out of 7,633 young children suspected to have the disease might have died from the virus.

IDAI's chairman, Dr Aman Bhakti Pulungan, said on Thursday that Indonesia has "recorded the greatest number of child deaths (from the virus) in Asean, and even Asia".

"As the pandemic is not yet over, Indonesia will likely have the highest rate of child deaths from Covid-19 in the world," he added, noting that no such deaths have been reported in neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Indonesian health officials blame the high number of child deaths from the virus, which mostly kills the elderly, on the children's underlying health conditions, such as malnutrition, and poor health facilities.

IDAI said that 45 children who died of Covid-19 had conditions such as central nervous system infection, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infection, acute malnutrition and dengue haemorrhagic fever.

Dr Aman added that late diagnosis and treatment caused the death of most of the children below age six. "There were a lot of children who received treatment less than 24 hours, 36 hours or 48 hours before they died," he added. "Some were diagnosed only after they had died."

A 40-day-old baby in Pamekasan, East Java, died of Covid-19 on June 21 after allegedly contracting the virus from neighbours who visited the family a few weeks earlier.

A nine-month-old child also died of the disease in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, on May 23.

Similarly, a 15-month-old girl died in Batam on May 23, a day after her mother took her to a hospital because she had fever and diarrhoea. Mr Tjetjep Yudiana, who heads the provincial health agency of the Riau Islands, told The Straits Times: "She was about to be tested, but she died. She was underweight, so her immune system was weak."

Children make up almost one-third, or 83 million, of Indonesia's population of nearly 270 million.

Dr Aman has suggested that children with symptoms such as diarrhoea and fever be tested for the coronavirus.

Mr Jasra Putra, commissioner of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, has called on the country's health authorities to swab the children of parents being tested. "If their parents are tested, the children must also be tested."

Tests can also help the government map out the situation and generate health service policies in line with children's needs, such as distributing vitamins to boost immunity, he added.

Mr Nahar, deputy for child protection at the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, said the government is trying to increase testing. "If many more people are tested, the infection among children can be prevented," added Mr Nahar, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.

Another concern highlighted by Mr Jasra is that more than half of the infected children contracted the disease from their parents.

With the easing of social restrictions in many parts of the country, chances are high that more children will be infected. Mr Jasra said parents need to be educated about health protocols, like mask wearing, so they do not become carriers and infect their children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2020, with the headline 'Over 300 kids may have died of Covid-19 in Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe