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Measles, Polio deaths likely to rise - WHO

By Carol Kasujja

Added 26th May 2020 05:05 PM

According to data collected provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries.

Measles, Polio deaths likely to rise - WHO

More than half (53%) of the 129 countries where data were available reported moderate-to-severe disruptions, or a total suspension of vaccination services. (File photo)

According to data collected provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that, with all focus directed at containing Covid-19, over 80million children under the age of one are likely to die from measles, polio and diphtheria.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries.

More than half (53%) of the 129 countries where data was available, reported moderate-to-severe disruptions or a total suspension of vaccination services during March-April 2020. 

"Immunization is one of the most powerful and fundamental disease prevention tools in the history of public health. Disruption to immunization programmes due to the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.

According to the global agency, the reasons for disrupted services vary. Some parents are reluctant to leave home because of restrictions on movement, lack of information or because they fear infection with the COVID-19 virus. And many health workers are unavailable because of restrictions on travel, or redeployment to COVID response duties, as well as a lack of protective equipment.

"More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history. Due to COVID-19, this immense progress is now under threat, risking the resurgence of diseases like measles and polio," said Dr Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO.

While issuing guidance on immunization services during the pandemic, UNICEF reported that transport delays of vaccines are exacerbating the situation.  

The UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore, noted that they cannot let the fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in the fight against other diseases. To help mitigate this, UNICEF appealed to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines.

 "We have effective vaccines against measles, polio and cholera. While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.

Despite the challenges, Uganda is making special efforts to ensure that immunization services continue along with other essential health services, even funding transportation to ensure outreach activities.

The Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunization (UNEPI) Programme Manager Dr Alfred Driwale, noted that when the country had just gone into the lockdown, the country registered a 12% reduction in the immunization service countrywide but when the government eased the lockdown, mothers were able to take their children for immunization.

"As a country, we knew that immunization services were going to be disrupted by the lockdown, so we asked for vaccines for six months that is why at the moment we do not have problems. National medical stores continue to distribute vaccines to all districts to ensure the flow continues," noted Driwale.

"To ensure that services continue, the ministry of health has provided funds to districts to be able to reach all mothers in remote areas," Driwale revealed.

"Instead of having mothers in one place, we advised districts to take the vaccines to villages so that no child goes without being immunized. We are calling upon all mothers to take their children for immunisation,' said Driwale.

Measles is a highly contagious disease which affects around 20 million people every year, the majority of whom are aged under five. 

Next week, WHO will issue new advice to countries on maintaining essential services during the pandemic, including recommendations on how to provide immunizations safely.

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