UNICEF India Representative Yasmin Haque’s remarks at a media briefing on the status of the COVID-19 crisis in India and South Asia

As prepared for delivery

13 May 2021
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NEW DELHI, 13 May 2021: “In the last 24 hours, India has recorded 362,632 new cases. There were 4,128 deaths, that is close to three deaths every minute. The daily deaths breached the 4,000 mark for the third time in the recent weeks. It is the highest recorded level in the COVID-19 pandemic in India so far. 

“This wave is almost four times the size of the first wave in India and the virus is spreading much faster.  The deadly surge in COVID-19 cases is placing an enormous strain on health and critical care facilities in India. This is not a health crisis alone. This is a tragedy unfolding for families, children and babies.

As UNICEF flagged last year after the pandemic hit the world, the COVID-19 crisis is a child rights crisis. Today in India, children are losing parents and sole caregivers to the virus - leaving them destitute, without parental care. These children are not only living an emotional tragedy, they are at high risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation.

“While there isn’t enough data yet, we can see that illegal adoption pleas have surfaced on social media, making these orphans vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.

“UNICEF is calling for greater efforts to safeguard these orphans. We need to promote kinship care, family tracing, enhance functionaries and accelerate the sponsorship of destitute families.

This surge is also having dire consequences for children whose access to essential health, social, protection and education services is being constrained. I’d like to give two examples of the impact on health and children’s education.

“On health: Critical life-saving services to help women give birth in India are now severely curtailed by the second wave. In India, there are 27 million births every year or 3000 per minute. Now with COVID-19 causing disruptions in medical supply chains and straining financial and human resources, other critical health services are impacted such as ante natal, prenatal care, childbirth or intensive care services for newborns and children.

“Before the pandemic, India had 20.6 health workers per 10,000 people. Many of these health workers have been diverted to the COVID-19 response.

“Although there are no official data available as yet. there are now reports of pregnant women and newborn babies struggling to find the required support to give birth from midwives, doctors and nurses.  

“In the crisis of health services, mothers and children should not become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost.

“When it comes to education, there is a huge learning loss for millions of children: Schools across the country remain closed. Remote learning is also disrupted in several states to give teachers and students a break from the stress and attend to their own health and safety through the pandemic.

“As a result, 247 million are not able to access learning in school at all levels. Even before this second wave, remote learning wasn’t available for many. As per our Rapid Survey, up until February-March, only 60% children were accessing remote learning, and among these, some only had access to a single device shared by the family.

“Rural students were 10% less likely to have accessed remote learning that urban peers. In addition, many teachers have lost lives due to COVID-19. Learning loss will therefore continue for children in India.

“I remember Mukesh, a 40-year-old daily wage worker from Bihar saying, ‘Education is the most important necessity for us right now. I think it is as important as food and if our children’s education doesn’t continue, it will be a problem.’ These words have stuck with me.

“We must prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children in India, especially the most vulnerable children – such as those affected by poverty, exclusion or family violence.

“The dire situation in India is reverberating across the globe.  

“India is of course a global hub for vaccine production. The soaring demand for COVID vaccines in India means that millions of doses intended for distribution to low-income countries cannot be exported. This leaves a significant supply gap, which increases the risk of further outbreaks and mutations.

“Let me conclude with a few highlights of UNICEF Response. Adding to other already ongoing interventions, UNICEF’s emergency response is currently aimed at further strengthening on 2 keys areas: Increasing access to lifesaving oxygen and boosting testing capacity. 

“We’re assisting the Government to ensure that critical services for the most vulnerable children continue to function across all states. UNICEF in India has been on-the-ground working tirelessly since the start of the pandemic. We have 71 years of history of working with children, communities and the Government of India. We have been in India with our support before, during and after many crises over the past decades, and no less through the pandemic. 

“We have shared critical lifesaving supplies to support India at this difficult time. For example, we have already procured and distributed 3,000 oxygen concentrators, testing kits and other critical equipment. We’ve sent additional critical lifesaving supplies to India, including 2 million face shields and 200,000 surgical masks. 2000 more oxygen concentrators are slated to arrive this month and a third batch is already ordered.

“The critical supplies are to help India contain the current urgent battle against the virus but also support in strengthening the healthcare system in the future to make it more resilient.

“From the beginning of the crisis, UNICEF has been supporting the Government and partners with a National Communication Strategy in Risk Communication & Community Engagement (RCCE). UNICEF created creative campaigns and messages to promote preventive behaviour among individuals and in the communities.

“Extensive communication efforts to promote vaccine update, address vaccine hesitancy and sharing accurate information to address stigma and discrimination. We have also accelerated messaging and campaigns on prevention, treatment, isolation, home care and many more. 

“Much more is needed as the outbreak continues to spread rapidly.

“UNICEF has appealed for $21 million for the urgent delivery of additional testing equipment, supplies and oxygen support products in India.

“$50 million for lifesaving COVID-19 interventions – to mitigate the longer-term impact of the pandemic on public health and social measures on children.”

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Media contacts

Zafrin Chowdhury
UNICEF India
Eliane Luthi
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia
Tel: +977-98010 30076

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About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. 

UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) works with UNICEF Country Offices in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to help to save children’s lives, defend their rights, and help them fulfil their potential. For more information about UNICEF’s work for children in South Asia, visit www.unicef.org/rosa and follow UNICEF ROSA on Twitter and Facebook.

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