While government data from Brazil suggests that over 800 children under the age of 9 have died of Covid-19, an expert estimates that the death toll is nearly three times higher.
The coronavirus has killed an estimated 1,300 babies in Brazil since the beginning of the pandemic, even though there’s overwhelming evidence showing that Covid-19 rarely kills young children.
While data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health suggests that over 800 children under the age of 9 have died of Covid-19, including about 500 babies, experts say the death toll among children is higher due to issues with underreporting cases stemming from a lack of widespread coronavirus testing, according to the BBC, who first reported the story.
Leading epidemiologist Dr Fatima Marinho from the University of São Paolo, who is also a senior adviser to the international non-governmental organization Vital Strategies, estimates that the virus has killed 2,060 children under 9, including 1,302 babies. Her estimate is based on the number of excess deaths by an unspecified acute respiratory syndrome among Brazilian children during the pandemic.
There is a misconception that children are at zero risks for Covid-19, Marinho told BBC after she found that there have been 10 times more deaths by an unexplained respiratory syndrome over the past year compared to previous years.
Marinho added that, throughout her research, she has seen a rise in cases of the multi-system inflammatory syndrome among Brazilian children. The rare syndrome is a newly identified and serious health condition associated with the virus that causes Covid-19 infections. It tends to affect children up to six weeks after they are infected with the coronavirus.
The grim news comes as Brazil becomes the country with the second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths, with more than 361,000 lives lost to the virus since the pandemic began —the most deaths in the world after the United States.
Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders in English, said on Thursday that the Brazilian government’s “failed response” to the pandemic has led to thousands of avoidable deaths.
“More than one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the failed response in Brazil has caused a humanitarian catastrophe,” Christos Christou, president of Doctors Without Borders, said during a briefing with reporters. “Each week there is a grim new record of deaths and infections — the hospitals are overflowing and yet there is still no coordinated centralized response.”
Just last week, more than a quarter of all global coronavirus deaths were in Brazil. Christou said he expects the situation in Brazil to get worse in the upcoming weeks if nothing changes.
So far, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has opposed lockdowns and has held large events in which he often does not wear a mask. He has only recently embraced vaccines as a possible solution.
Experts in Brazil say that low coronavirus testing rates, lack of contact tracing efforts, and shortage of vaccines have contributed to a rise in cases and deaths. They have also have increased the risk of exposure, and potential death, among more Brazilian babies and children.
“Their refusal to adapt evidence-based public health measures has sent far too many to an early grave. The response in Brazil needs an urgent, science-based and well-coordinated reset to prevent further avoidable deaths and the destruction of the once prestigious Brazilian health system,” Christou said in a statement Thursday.