By Abujah Racheal
The World Health Organization (WHO) says about 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned extra doses of measles vaccine between January 2020 and April 2021 due to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic ( COVID-19).
The Nigerian News Agency (NAN) reports that measles is highly contagious, requiring vaccination coverage of at least 95% of the population to prevent outbreaks.
Yet coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stagnated at around 69% in the WHO African Region since 2013.
Only seven countries in the region achieved 95% measles vaccination coverage in 2019.
Low measles coverage reflects a wider stagnation of routine immunization in Africa which in some countries has been exacerbated by the pandemic and related restrictions.
Some diseases, including tetanus, diphtheria, and yellow fever, require 90% population coverage, but rates in Africa have remained around 70-75% over the past decade.
About nine million children in the African region lack life-saving vaccines each year and one in five children remain unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases, which claim the lives of more than 500,000 children under 5 in Africa every year.
Moeti said the outbreaks were largely due to low routine immunization coverage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said eight African countries have reported large measles outbreaks that have affected tens of thousands of people during the aforementioned period.
She added that 15 African countries have delayed measles vaccination campaigns in 2020 as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although seven of these countries have now completed campaigns, the remaining eight are still at risk of major measles outbreaks.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more than three million deaths worldwide, has left gaps in routine immunization coverage in the Africa region.
“The recent outbreaks of measles, but also yellow fever, cholera and meningitis, all point to worrying gaps in vaccine coverage and surveillance in Africa,” Moeti said.
As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously exposed to preventable diseases, she said, while urging countries to double essential health services, including life-saving immunization campaigns.
Moeti said WHO was working with African countries to ensure that routine immunization service delivery is stepped up to fill gaps created at the start of the pandemic.
“This includes providing policy guidance, strengthening health systems, training health professionals, strengthening disease surveillance and using data for action, as well as supporting campaigns. mass immunizations for a range of vaccine-preventable diseases, ”she added.
She explained that integrated action was needed to increase and expand access to immunization as part of primary health care.
She added, however, that this must be supported by a well-trained workforce, strong surveillance, health information systems, leadership, management and coordination at the national level.
“We also need to engage more with community leaders and influencers to make sure everyone understands the transformative and life-saving promise of vaccines,” advised Moeti. (NOPE)
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