UNICEF said on Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic could cause "irreversible harm" to the health, education, and nutrition of children around the globe.
"Disruptions to key services and soaring poverty rates pose the biggest threat to children. The longer the crisis persists, the deeper its impact on children's education, health, nutrition, and well-being. The future of an entire generation is at risk," said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF.
The UN agency sounded the alarm in a new report on the status of children worldwide during the pandemic, calling for urgent action to close educational and health gaps.
Up to 2 million additional child deaths
The report, which surveyed 140 countries, found that around one-third of countries reported at least 10% decline in health services coverage — including vaccinations and maternal health services.
UNICEF said that if interruptions to services and rising malnutrition continued, then it could lead to about 2 million additional deaths of children, and 200,000 additional stillbirths over the next 12 months.
The UN's children agency found that nutrition services for women and children saw a 40% decline across 135 countries owing to the pandemic. As of October, 265 million children were missing out on school meals.
In addition, over 250 million children under the age of five were missing the benefits of Vitamin A supplementation programs. UNICEF added that an additional 6-7 million children under the age of five could suffer from acute malnutrition.
The report also noted that 33% of children enrolled in schools were affected by school closures.
Globally, the number of children in poverty, without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water, is expected to rise by 15%, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF calls for support
The agency set out a six-point plan, under which it appealed to governments to close the digital divide in education, guarantee access to nutrition and health services, make vaccines affordable, support mental health of children, and end gender-based violence.
It also urged governments to support children in conflict areas and reduce child poverty. UNICEF added that schools were not the main driver of community transmission of the coronavirus, and children were more likely to get the virus outside the school.