More than 267,000 excess infants died worldwide in 2020 due to economic fallout from COVID-19

Hundreds of thousands of babies died last year due to the economic fallout from COVID-19, a new modeling study suggests.

Researchers from World Bank Group, a financial institution headquartered in Washington, DC, estimated that an extra 267,000 infant fatalities were reported n 2020 in low- and middle-income countries.

This is seven percent higher than the number of newborns that usually die in the course of a year.  

The team says the findings emphasize the vulnerability of the youngest age group to economic downturns, such as those brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

An excess 267,000 infant deaths were reported in 2020, 7% higher than the 248,000 fatalities initially projected last year. Pictured: Stamford Elementary school teacher Luciana Lira, 42, holds baby Neysel, then two weeks, to show his mother Zully, a Guatemalan asylum seeker, and her son Junior, 7, via Zoom in Connecticut, April 2020

Past studies have examined indirect deaths caused by COVID-19, meaning not from the virus itself.

For example, one study found 75,000 Americans died indirectly due the pandemic such as delaying seeking life-saving medical care.

And preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that a record 93,000 people die from drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020 due to the proliferation of fentanyl and the stress of the pandemic.

The new study examined the impact that countries’ falling Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had on the survival of children up to 12 months old.

For the study, published in BMJ Open, the team looked at data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program, which is implemented by ICF International. 

Researchers looked at GDP in 128 low- and lower middle-income countries including in sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, the Middle East and Europe

Next, they looked at the infant mortality rate per 1,000 children. 

Calculations found that 267,208 infants from low- and middle-income countries died in 2020.

This figure represents a seven percent increase from the roughly 248,000 infant deaths that were initially projected last year. 

The highest numbers of estimated excess infant deaths were seen in South Asia with 113,141 – making up about 42 percent of all deaths last year.

Of all the countries, India had the highest total number of newborn deaths at 99,642.

More than 267,000 excess infants died worldwide in 2020 due to economic fallout from COVID-19

More than 267,000 excess infants died worldwide in 2020 due to economic fallout from COVID-19

The authors compared the 82,239 deaths estimate for Africa in 2020 to the 50,000 estimated in the year following the 2009 financial crisis.

They note that this shows the COVID-19 pandemic was even more devastating for the economy than the Great Recession.   

‘Regardless of the exact number of projected deaths, the large number of excess infant deaths estimated in our analysis underscores the vulnerability of this age group to negative aggregate income shocks, such as those induced by the COVID-19 pandemic,’ the authors wrote.

The team says there could be several reasons how the economic fallout led to children under age one are dying at such high rates.  

This includes malnutrition, lack of ability to access healthcare services and poor quality of these services.   

‘As countries, health systems, and the wider global community continue efforts to prevent and treat COVID-19, we should also consider resources to stabilize health systems and strengthen social safety nets in order to mitigate the human, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic and related lockdown policies,’ they wrote. 

More than 267,000 excess infants died worldwide in 2020 due to economic fallout from COVID-19

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