Hundreds of children in Indonesia are reported to have died from COVID-19, making this Southeast Asian country one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world due to the new coronavirus, which, according to experts from around the world, pose little danger to young people.
Pediatricians and health officials from the fourth most populous country in the world said the high number of child deaths from a disease that kills mainly the elderly is due to underlying factors, particularly malnutrition , anemia and inadequate child health facilities.
“COVID-19 proves that we must fight malnutrition,” Achmad Yurianto, a senior official in the health ministry, told Reuters.
He said that Indonesian children were caught in a “devil’s circle”, a cycle of malnutrition and anemia that increased their vulnerability to the coronavirus. He compared malnourished children to weak structures that “collapse after an earthquake.”
Since Indonesia announced its first case of coronavirus in March, it has recorded 2,000 deaths, the highest in Asia-Pacific outside of China.
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A total of 715 people under the age of 18 had contracted the coronavirus, while 28 had died, according to a Ministry of Health document dated May 22 and reviewed by Reuters.
Indonesia has also recorded more than 380 deaths among 7,152 children classified as “patients under surveillance”, that is to say people with severe symptoms of coronavirus for which there is no other explanation, but whose tests have not confirmed the disease.
Even the official figure for children who died from the coronavirus, May 28-22, would give Indonesia a high child death rate, at 2.1 percent of its total.
Different countries use different age groups in the statistics, but deaths among those under 24 in the United States account for just over 0.1% of deaths from that country.
In Brazil, the number of suspected COVID deaths under the age of 19 is 1.2%. In the Philippines, deaths of children under 19 account for about 2.3% of the number of coronaviruses.
Indonesia, a developing country of 270 million people, suffers from a “triple burden of malnutrition”, which includes stunting, anemia in mothers and obesity, according to the United Nations Fund for children (UNICEF).
Nearly one in three Indonesian children under the age of five is stunted, according to UNICEF.
“Nutritional status has an impact on children’s immunity,” said Dr. Nastiti Kaswandani, a pediatric pulmonologist in the capital, Jakarta.
“This is important for mitigating COVID infections. ”
Pediatricians said the poorly equipped health system was also an issue.
“The biggest gap in Indonesia is the availability of pediatric intensive care units,” said Shela Putri Sundawa, a pediatrician in Jakarta.
The Ministry of Health refused to provide data on the children’s care units, and a senior official said the system had not been exceeded.
Equipment shortages are more pronounced outside the capital.
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Pediatrician Dominicus Husada said that a hospital where he worked on Madura Island in east Java did not have a ventilator for children. An 11-year-old boy died of coronaviruses in March.
A father, Iyansyah, whose nine-month-old boy died from COVID-19 on Lombok Island, told Reuters that the hospital does not have child care units.
“The truth is, if the hospital I went to had complete facilities, it probably would have survived,” said Iyansyah.