As deadly surge of COVID-19 sweeps across South Asia, UNICEF calls for US$164 million to help save lives

20 May 2021
India. A medical worker takes a swab sample of a boy for a Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a boy for a Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test in Ghaziabad.

KATHMANDU, 21 May 2021 – UNICEF urgently requires US$164 million to procure oxygen and testing supplies, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control material to help save lives amid a deadly wave of COVID-19 across South Asia.

The region, home to almost 2 billion people, accounts for half of known new infections globally. Over three new COVID-19 infections are being recorded every second. Mortality in the region is rising sharply, with more than three people dying every minute due to COVID-19.

“The sheer scale and speed of this new surge of COVID-19 is outstripping countries’ abilities to provide life-saving treatment,” said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “Hospitals are overwhelmed, there is an acute lack of oxygen and other critical medical supplies, and there is a real risk of fragile health systems collapsing.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers across South Asia died due to severe disruptions in essential health services. “We’re now
looking at a surge that is four times the size of the first. We need to do everything within our power to prevent and treat COVID-19 while keeping the critical health care services that
children and mothers so heavily depend on running,” Laryea-Adjei said.

On 18 May, India recorded the highest number of daily deaths ever in the history of the COVID-19 pandemic: 4,529. Neighboring Nepal has experienced case positivity rates as high as 47 per cent; Sri Lanka and the Maldives are recording new highs in COVID-19 cases and deaths on a daily basis, and hospitals in the capital of the Maldives are reaching full capacity.

Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bhutan could all face similar devastating surges. In almost all countries in the region, with the exception of the Maldives and Bhutan, fewer than 1 in 10 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The funding requirement includes:

• US$32 million for oxygen equipment including on-site oxygen-generating plants for hospitals, portable oxygen concentrators and cylinders;
• US$40 million for medical and diagnostic equipment including RT-PCR and RNA extraction machines;
• US$60 million for masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, visors, and other personal protective equipment needed to keep health & frontline workers safe;
• US$28 million for infection prevention and control including handwashing stations, sanitizer, autoclaves, laundry machines and hygiene supplies required to deliver essential health
care safely;
• US$3.7 million for therapeutics and medical supplies, including nutrition support and consumables.

The critical health supplies will not only save lives, but also help build stronger health-care systems across South Asia ahead of potential future waves of the pandemic. In addition, the supplies will also be used to strengthen healthcare services for women and children: improving access to oxygen therapy can directly contribute to fighting childhood pneumonia in the region, and RT-PCR test machines that identify COVID-19 can also help detect TB, HIV, HPV and streptococcus.

“This deadly surge in South Asia threatens to reverse global gains against the COVID-19 pandemic and roll back hard-earned progress on child and maternal survival,” Laryea-Adjei said. “We’re asking for support to help make sure this doesn’t happen.”

In addition to delivering life-saving COVID-19 supplies, UNICEF’s COVID-19 response in South Asia also includes:

• reaching families with information and resources to prevent infection and building vaccine confidence;
• increasing access to safe water and sanitation;
• cash assistance for the most vulnerable families;
• supporting efforts to keep children learning, including through engaging the public and private sectors; and
• providing mental health and protection support for children and young people directly affected by the pandemic.


Media contacts

Eliane Luthi
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia
Tel: +977 98010 30076
Joe English
Tel: +1 917 893 0692

Additional resources


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