Indonesia has been hit by its worst COVID-19 surge yet, as the contagious Delta variant left more and more casualties and a trail of devastated parents in its wake.
As the pandemic drags on, children have not been spared. In some countries, the impact it has left is much more obvious.
Based on Indonesian Health Ministry data and experts, the virus has killed over 1,200 children – nearly half under one-year-old – with the majority dying in June and July, as the deadly second wave of infections surged.
According to Professor Aman Pulungan, the Head of the Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI), the fatality rate among children in Indonesia is probably the highest in the world. He added that more than 200,000 children in Indonesia have contracted the virus.
The pediatric society’s statistics demonstrate that about one of every 88 officially counted deaths has been that of a child. However under-reporting and inadequate testing make comparative figures difficult to obtain.
The disease has killed far more children in developing countries as compared to developed countries, and some factors make them especially vulnerable in Indonesia.
Researchers have listed out many reasons as to why children would be more likely to die in developing countries but many of these factors boil down to a single reason: poverty.
“The first thing to know is that socioeconomic inequality is a very important factor for mortality,” explained Dr Marisan Dolhhnikoff, a pathologist at the São Paulo University Medical School, Brazil.
Poverty-stricken children tend to have more underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and malnutrition – which can multiply the risks of COVID-19. Additionally, respiratory sickness like asthma and tuberculosis that are more widespread in poorer regions, can make it more difficult for children to survive the pandemic.
Yet when children turn visibly ill, parents may mistake the symptoms for other conditions, particularly due to the prevalent misperception that children cannot get the virus, or are less likely to be affected by it.
In densely populated countries like Indonesia – the fourth-most populous in the world, many do not get the treatment they need because of reasons like limited access to vaccines, overcrowded and understaffed hospitals as well as the lack of pediatric intensive care units or specialists in treating children.
While child COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 2,000 in Brazil and 1,500 in India – both figures more than in Indonesia – both those countries have had several times as many deaths overall.
However with Indonesia recently starting to vaccinate 12- to 17-year-olds and pregnant women, it is hoped that the condition in the country will slowly move towards being better.
“Newborns will be more protected if pregnant women are vaccinated,” expressed Mr Edhie Rahmat, Executive Director for Project Hope in Indonesia.
In other Southeast Asian countries, the condition of the children has not been much better.
In the Philippines, the recent rise in COVID-19 infections resulted in more children being admitted to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
According to the hospital’s spokesman Jonas del Rosario, the hospital is treating six paediatric patients for the virus, with three of them in critical condition.
“Sometimes, it’s harder to care for them when they get Covid-19. Usually, children who have Covid-19 get pneumonia, and sometimes they have to be given ventilatory support, they are intubated to help their breathing
Mr Jonas del Rosario, spokesman for Philippine General Hospital (PGH)
An estimated 10 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 since its mass immunisation drive in March. However the country aims to vaccinate at least 50 million Filipinos by the end of 2021.
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