UN expects a global baby boom led by India due to Covid-19 lockdowns

Updated on May 07, 2020 02:36 PM IST

India, with 20.1 million births, tops nations with the anticipated highest numbers of births in the nine months since the pandemic’s declaration, the UN body said.

Following India will be countries such as China (13.5 million births), Nigeria (6.4 million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million).
Following India will be countries such as China (13.5 million births), Nigeria (6.4 million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million).
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The United Nations on Thursday projected a sharp rise in global birth rates led by India in the months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which prompted lockdowns in several countries. “The pandemic could strain health care capacities for mothers and newborns,” it said.

“An estimated 116 million babies will be born under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Unicef said in a report. This represents a spike for the period assessed. “New mothers and newborns will be greeted by harsh realities.”

India, with 20.1 million births, tops nations with the anticipated highest numbers of births in the nine months since the pandemic’s declaration, the UN body said.

Following India will be countries such as China (13.5 million births), Nigeria (6.4 million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million).

“COVID-19 containment measures can disrupt life-saving health services such as childbirth care, putting millions of pregnant mothers and their babies at great risk,” Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said in the global report. Developing countries are especially at risk, she said.

The UN body made projections for a 40-week period between March 11 and December 16, 2020, in its estimate based upon the WHO’s March 11 assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

India has made considerable progress in social indicators, but still lags many countries in indices such as maternal health, access to contraception and immunisation.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), the prevalence rate of anaemia among Indian women has witnessed just a speck of minor improvement from 55% in 2005-06 to 53% in 2015-16.

The UN body said most of the countries which will witness a baby boom (including India) had “high neonatal mortality rates” even before the pandemic and “may see these levels increase with COVID-19 conditions”.

“That’s very true. Family welfare has got a big knock down. Access to birth-control measures during the lockdown has been scarce. There is a high possibility of unprotected sex among spouses. Adequate resources must be reserved for a birth boom,” said Dr. Sushil Sharma, a public health expert and chairman of the Arthritis Foundation of India.

According to Purushottam M. Kulkarni of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, data from the NHFS shows that between 2005-06 and 2015-16 (NFHS-4), there has been little improvement in access to contraception, indicating unmet contraception. Unmet need for contraception is measured as the share of women who are fertile and want to postpone their next birth or stop childbearing altogether but don’t have access to contraception.

Even wealthier countries are affected by this crisis, the UN body said. “In the US, the sixth highest country in terms of expected number of births, over 3.3 million babies are projected to be born between March 11 and December 16. In New York, authorities are looking into alternative birthing centers as many pregnant women are worried about giving birth in hospitals.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns died every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, data from WHO show. The UN body called for allocating dedicated resources to lifesaving services and supplies for maternal and child health.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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