A rising number of infants and children in Iraq are reported to have been infected by COVID-19 without access to care, as the variant that was first discovered in the UK is wreaking havoc in the country, with reports of children dying, Save the Children warned today.
According to Iraq’s Ministry of Health, thousands of cases have been recorded among children since the discovery of the variant in Iraq was officially announced on 15 February. The number of children under 10 who were diagnosed jumped from 11,699 cases as of 11 March to 13,546 cases on 24 March, an increase of 15.7% in just two weeks.
Although there is no definitive answer yet, scientists earlier suggested that the new variant is transmitting across all ages, including children. Earlier in February, the ministry said the variant accounts for 50% of all new COVID-19 cases.
Doctors have told Save the Children that they have seen an increase in children being hospitalised with COVID-19. But they fear it’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many cases are not taken to hospitals or are only diagnosed in clinics and pharmacies, where they are not officially recorded.
Dr. Taha Abdulmawjoud from Ninawa, who works with Save the Children, said:
“We have seen children as young as 10 admitted to hospital and there is a higher percentage of children with the virus in primary health care centres and paediatric hospitals than before. We worry that many children will catch the virus without having access to proper testing or isolation, which risks them spreading among their friends and older family members.”
The Ministry of Health said the virus is spreading quickly across villages and cities. In some instances, it has infected whole families. The infection rate has jumped by 110% over the last two weeks of February compared to the first half of the month.
Overcrowded schools are also likely to lead to a high risk of infections among children, Save the Children warned.
"We fear this new variant, particularly for first-grade students,” said Saleh*, a father of three from Jalawla, northeast of Baghdad. “The communities around us are not very careful. We know the new variant can infect children. We have heard of serious infections of children."
Save the Children is calling for urgent support to step up access to protective equipment, provide disinfection and sanitation kits to schools and enforce social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
Ishtiaq Mannan, Save the Children’s country director in Iraq, said:
“These are worrying signs that COVID-19 is taking a heavy toll on children in Iraq. Infants and children under 10 have been either infected or have reportedly died because of this virus.
“We are worried that the new variant will start spreading undetected among children. It could be a matter of time before Iraq’s healthcare system is overwhelmed”.
Save the Children calls on the Iraqi Ministry of Health to prioritise vaccinating frontline health workers and other priority groups, followed by teachers among others, as well as those who are in direct contact with children.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Iraq, Save the Children has been raising awareness in communities, schools and among children on the virus and ways of prevention, running awareness-raising sessions on social distance and the importance of wearing masks. The organisation is also continuously providing hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to schools' staff and to health workers around the five governorates it operates within Iraq.
Media contact: Angus Smith +61 488 330 882 / firstname.lastname@example.org
*name changed to protect children’s identities