The United Nations warned Thursday that the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic may be more dangerous than the virus itself for the world’s children, claiming that in 2020 hundreds of thousands could die and tens of millions more be plunged into poverty.
With the world possibly facing the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, U.N. officials say the financial effects of the pandemic could have devastating effects on the world’s children by limiting families’ ability to afford essential food and healthcare.
The U.N. estimates that between 42 million and 66 million children could fall into poverty as a result of coronavirus—in addition to the estimated 386 million children living in extreme poverty last year—and could lead to malnutrition and an increase in preventable diseases in children.
This could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths before the end of the year, the U.N. said, and reverse the progress made over the past several years in reducing infant mortality.
According to the U.N., the strain on healthcare systems caused by coronavirus has also prevented families from being able to access standard care and immunizations against diseases like polio, measles and other deadly diseases that kill children.
According to the U.N., violence by caregivers is the most common form of violence children experience, and the stress of quarantine can exacerbate the risk of domestic violence in families, making the home a dangerous place for some children.
“We must act now on each of these threats to our children,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement Thursday. “Leaders must do everything in their power to cushion the impact of the pandemic. What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for the global promise to leave no one behind.”