The World Health Organisation has warned that 15 African countries risk measles outbreaks over delayed measles immunisation drives last year as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organisation noted in a statement that while seven of the countries had completed the campaigns, eight remained outstanding, posing a risk of major measles outbreaks. The eight countries are Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea and Nigeria.
According to the WHO, on the eve of the African Vaccination Week – the annual campaign for universal access to life-saving vaccines on the continent – new, early data shows that an estimated 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned supplemental measles vaccine doses between January 2020 and April 2021. It added that eight African countries reported major measles outbreaks that affected tens of thousands during the period.
The WHO stated, “The outbreaks were largely due to low routine immunisation coverage or delayed vaccination drives. In addition, the quality of measles surveillance in Africa fell to the lowest level in seven years in 2020, with just 11 countries meeting their target.’’
“Recent outbreaks of measles, but also yellow fever, cholera and meningitis all point to worrying gaps in immunisation coverage and surveillance in Africa. As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously exposed to preventable diseases. I urge all countries to double down on essential health services, including life-saving vaccination campaigns,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The organisation noted that low measles coverage reflected a wider stagnation in routine immunisation in Africa which, in some countries, had been exacerbated by the pandemic and related restrictions.
“Around nine million children in the African region miss life-saving vaccines each year and one in five children remain unprotected from vaccine preventable diseases, which claim the lives of over 500,000 children under five years in Africa every year, ” WHO stated.
It further said that alongside the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, it was working with African countries to ensure that routine immunisation service delivery was scaled up to close the gaps created at the start of the pandemic.
“This includes providing policy guidance, helping strengthen health systems, training health care professionals, reinforcing disease surveillance and the use of data for action, as well as assisting with periodic mass vaccination campaigns for a range of vaccine preventable diseases,’’ the statement said.
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