Indian state gears up to protect children from third COVID wave

Maharashtra trains thousands of health workers in taking care of children afflicted with COVID-19 as a first line of defence.

Children wearing protective masks wait to enter a railway station in Mumbai amid the spread of the coronavirus disease [File: Niharika Kulkarni/Reuters]

India’s western state of Maharashtra is training thousands of health workers in taking care of children afflicted with COVID-19 as a first line of defence against surges involving new variants, health officials and experts said.

The state, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, was the worst hit by a devastating second wave of infections in April and May that killed hundreds of thousands, and is still reporting a quarter of all new cases nationwide.

It has reimposed curbs to rein in the fast-spreading Delta variant that has touched off new outbreaks globally, even as daily national tallies stand at their lowest in nearly two months, allowing some states to reopen businesses.

“We are training thousands of health workers, who are usually the first point of contact for families, on how to deal with COVID care in children,” Suhas Prabhu, head of the state’s pediatric task force, told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

While there is no data showing children are more vulnerable, a government survey in Mumbai from April to mid-June showed the presence of virus antibodies in at least half of those younger than 18.

A nurse checks a coronavirus disease patient’s pulse before she is admitted into a school turned COVID-19 care facility on the outskirts of Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

“The experts are indicating that a sizeable number of children are likely to be infected in the third wave,” said government adviser Dr Subhash Salunke.

Paediatric critical care remained a “weak link” in the healthcare system, the former World Health Organization official told Reuters.

Some experts warn that a third wave could hit children, and Mumbai has joined other cities in building huge paediatric wards in preparation.

“This is good news because it shows that at least half the population below 18 is protected from COVID-19, but we will make sure that we don’t let our guard down,” said Suresh Kakani, Mumbai’s additional municipal commissioner who oversaw the survey.

An estimated 1.5 million of Mumbai’s 12.8 million population are younger than 18. Mumbai would repeat the survey every three months, Kakani said.

India, which is using AstraZeneca’s domestically produced Covishield doses and the home-grown Covaxin, has yet to approve any vaccines for children.

Maharashtra, with a population of more than 114 million, is one of the country’s most populous states, and has reported 50 cases of the new Delta Plus variant that India has designated as being of concern.

It is an offshoot of the highly infectious Delta variant that caused a spike in cases in April and May which overwhelmed healthcare facilities, swamping crematoriums.

Daily coronavirus cases have been declining across the country over the past three weeks.

From 400,000 cases a day in May, daily new infections now stand at 37,566, health ministry data showed on Tuesday. The South Asian nation’s tally stands at 30.31 million, with a death toll of 397,637.

But several states that came in for criticism for how they handled the second wave have been sharing plans for how they would handle any third surge in infections.

Source: Reuters