Covid-19 killing Brazilian children at alarming rates

“Who’s mommy’s little girl?” 22-year-old Brazilian Sameque Gois asks as she plays with her baby’s tiny hand, in one of the several videos she showed CNN. In the footage, little Sarah responds to her mother with an ear-to-ear smile.

Sarah was born in January this year. Despite having a few issues during pregnancy that caused her baby to be born prematurely, Gois says her daughter was generally healthy. But after she took her baby girl to the Casa de Saúde Hospital in São Paulo’s coastal city of Santos to treat a urinary tract infection, Sarah started to present persistent fever and flu-like symptoms.

“When her symptoms started, the doctors said it was bronchiolitis, that it wasn’t anything serious,” Gois explains. But her daughter would not recover.

As Sarah’s condition deteriorated, Gois says she felt helpless. “All I knew was that she was in a serious condition and that she could go at any moment. I knew that the only thing I could do was to get on my knees and pray,” she said.

Despite her pleas, her daughter died from Covid-19 on May 27. She was just five months old.

Sarah’s case is one of many in Brazil. The Brazilian Health Ministry says 1,122 children under the age of 10 have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic started. The Brazilian government records the number people who died from severe acute respiratory diseases — such as severe cases of the flu, and others.

However, researchers from global health organization Vital Strategies, which works in more than 70 countries around the world, say its studies suggest such case numbers have been severely underreported.

When comparing the number of Brazilian child deaths from such illnesses in 2018 and 2019 with the number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, Vital Strategies found an excess 2,975 deaths. The organization says it’s likely that the vast majority of these excess deaths — not just the official number of 1,122 — were because of Covid-19.

“What we see in Brazil is that the number of kids dying with Covid specified as the cause of death is higher than what we are seeing in other countries of the world — it’s 10 times higher,” Dr. Ana Luiza Bierrenbach, an epidemiologist at Vital Strategies, told CNN.

In the United States, the only country in the world with a higher overall official death toll than Brazil’s, far fewer children have died from Covid-19 — 382 Americans under the age of 18, according to CDC data.

Bierrenbach adds that the coronavirus variant known as Gamma or P.1, which was first identified in Brazil, may not be entirely to blame.

“Kids have been dying more in Brazil since the original variant was here, so it was not the addition of the P.1 variant that made kids die more here than in other countries,” she said. CNN

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