Hundreds of children in Indonesia are believed to have died from Covid-19

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Hundreds of children in Indonesia are believed to have died from Covid-19, despite experts around the world saying the coronavirus poses little danger to the young, Reuters reports.

“Covid-19 proves that we have to fight against malnutrition,” Achmad Yurianto, a senior health ministry official, told Reuters.

He said Indonesian children were caught in a “devil’s circle”, a cycle of malnutrition and anaemia that increased their vulnerability to the coronavirus. He compared malnourished children to weak structures that “crumble after an earthquake”.

Since Indonesia announced its first coronavirus case in March it has recorded 2,000 deaths, the highest in east Asia outside China. A total of 715 people under 18 have contracted the coronavirus, while 28 have died, according to a health ministry document dated 22 May and reviewed by Reuters.

A woman carries a child while collecting social assistance packages from an NGO in Deliserdang, North Sumatra.
A woman carries a child while collecting social assistance packages from an NGO in Deliserdang, North Sumatra. Photograph: Dedi Sinuhaji/EPA

It also recorded more than 380 deaths among 7,152 children classified as “patients under monitoring”, meaning people with severe coronavirus symptoms for which there is no other explanation but whose tests have not confirmed the infection.

Even the official figure for children who have died of the coronavirus, at 28 as of 22 May, would give Indonesia a high rate of child death, at 2.1% of its total. Different countries use different age brackets in statistics but deaths for those under 24 in the United States are a little over 0.1% of its fatalities.

Indonesia, a developing country of 270 million, suffers from a “triple burden of malnutrition,” which includes stunting, and anaemia among mothers, and obesity, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Nearly one in three Indonesian children under five is stunted, it says.

“The nutrition status impacts children’s immunity,” said Dr Nastiti Kaswandani, a paediatric pulmonologist in the capital, Jakarta.

“That’s important in mitigating Covid infections.”

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