The United Nations childrens agency has appealed for an additional $92.4m to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa, parts of which are conflict-ridden and home to the highest number of children in need.

Yemen is a top concern, said Ted Chaiban, the regional chief of UNICEF, on Monday. After five years of civil war, half the health centres in the country no longer operate.

Two million children are malnourished, including 400,000 who suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

“If you dont get support to them every month, you have a 50 percent increase in the mortality rate among those children [with severe malnutrition],” Chaiban told The Associated Press news agency.

It was already critical to address the needs of children in Yemen. With COVID-19, now youve got this extra layer of vulnerability.

So far, there has been only one confirmed coronavirus patient in Yemen, but testing capabilities are limited and there are concerns the virus might be spreading undetected.

More than 218,000 infections have been reported in the Middle East region, including close to 8,000 deaths, the vast majority of them in Iran.

Chaiban said the additional funding is needed for a range of programmes across the region to soften the blow of the pandemic.

In addition to its regular nutrition and immunisation services, the agency is helping to establish isolation centres and improve water and sanitation.

UNICEF is also running awareness campaigns about social distancing and hygiene, which are particularly difficult in crowded neighbourhoods and refugee camps, he said.

Before the pandemic, some 25 million children in the region were in need of humanitarian aid.

UNICEF estimates that an additional four million children are being pushed into poverty, as millions of adults in the Middle East and North Africa lose their income due to nationwide lockdowns meant to fight the pandemic, Chaiban said.

A UN research released on Thursday said coronavirus is turning into “a broader child-rights crisis”.

“All children of all ages and in all countries are affected,” it said. “However, some children are destined to bear the greatest costs.”

Those badly hit will be children living in slums, refugee and displacement camps, conflict zones, institutions, and detention centres, as well as children with disabilities, the report said.