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Children in sub-Saharan Africa have a far higher risk of death from COVID-19 than those in the United States and Europe, a new study shows.
“Although our study looked at data from earlier in the pandemic, the situation hasn't changed much for the children of Africa. If anything, it is expected to be worsening with the global emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” said lead study author Dr. Jean Nachega, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
“Vaccines are not yet widely available, and pediatric intensive care is not easily accessible," Nachega explained in a school news release.
Researchers examined outcomes among 469 children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda who were admitted to 25 hospitals with COVID-19 between March and December 2020. They ranged in age from 3 months to 19 years.
About one-third of the children were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) or required supplemental oxygen. Just over 21% of those admitted to the ICU required mechanical ventilation.
More than 8% of the children died, compared with rates of between 1% and 5% in high-income countries.
The researchers also found that infants younger than 1 were nearly five times more likely to die than teens ages 15-19. Patients of all ages with underlying health conditions -- including high blood pressure, chronic lung diseases, hematological disorders and cancer -- also had a higher risk of dying.
The study was published Jan. 19 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“Our findings call for an urgent scale-up of COVID-19 vaccination and therapeutic interventions among at-risk eligible children and adolescents in Africa,” said Nachega, also a professor at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa.
“They also raise further the acute need for capacity-building and support for pediatric intensive care in these settings,” Nachega added.
Unicef has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh, news release, Jan. 19, 2022
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