Coronavirus leads to mass hunger, killing 10,000 children a month, UN warns

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The coronavirus and restrictions that have coincided with the pandemic are pushing millions around the globe to the brink of starvation.

Coronavirus-related starvation is leading to the death of 10,000 children a month, 50 percent of which are in Sub-Sahara Africa, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). An additional 550,000 children a month area experiencing “wasting,” a term used by the U.N. to explain malnutrition that leads to spindly limbs and distended stomachs.

The long-term consequences of mass-malnutrition could lead to generations of physically and mentally impaired people.

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“Without urgent action, the global number of children suffering from wasting could reach almost 54 million over the course of the year,” UNICEF said in a press release Monday. “This would bring global wasting to levels not seen this millennium.”

Villages in rural areas are facing increasing challenges in getting access to health services and provisions during the crisis. And food sales have decreased, posing an additional challenge to farmers who cannot get their crops to market.

“It’s been seven months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported and it is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Household poverty and food insecurity rates have increased.”

Burkina Faso struggled with food insecurity prior to the pandemic, but now one in five children are chronically malnourished and 12 million of the country’s 20 million citizens don't get enough to eat.

“Essential nutrition services and supply chains have been disrupted. Food prices have soared,” Fore said Monday. “As a result, the quality of children’s diets has gone down and malnutrition rates will go up.”

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Child wasting is only the “tip of the iceberg” warned the U.N., and issues ranging from stunting to obesity are all causes of poor diet.

A report by The Lancet released Monday, estimated that the increases in child malnutrition along with decreases in health services caused by the pandemic, have projected128,605 additional deaths could occur in children ages five and under over the next year.

“The food security effects of the COVID crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the World Health Organization head of nutrition. “There is going to be a societal effect.”

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UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization have warned that malnutrition intensified by the coronavirus is hitting low and mid-income countries the most severely.

The United Nations has appealed to countries around the world to provide $2.4 billion in aid to support regions struggling the most through the end of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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