The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have alerted countries, including Nigeria, to the possibility of major measles and polio epidemics, as COVID-19 continues to disrupt immunization services worldwide.
According to the global bodies, millions of vulnerable children worldwide are now at heightened risk of the preventable childhood diseases.WHO and UNICEF estimate that $655 million is required to tackle polio, while $255 million is needed to address measles in non-Gavi eligible countries and target age groups.
The bodies said there has been a global resurgence of measles, with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world. According to them, vaccination coverage gaps have been further exacerbated in 2020 by COVID-19 as measles, in 2019, climbed to the highest number of new infections in more than two decades.
In a statement yesterday, the organizations said that Nigeria remained at risk of both polio and measles outbreaks due to the inadequate increase in routine immunization coverage in children receiving lifesaving vaccines. Nigeria was declared free of the wild poliovirus in August 2020.
UNICEF and WHO noted that measles has continued to be among leading cause of death and disability among children, with first dose of the vaccination coverage of only 54 per cent (NDHS 2018) in Nigeria. They, however, noted that Nigeria is conducting supplemental immunizations to prevent outbreaks.
To the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, immunization is the best way to secure the future of our children, it is very safe, effective and available at all government health centres.
He admonished all caregivers and parents to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated and protected from the childhood killer diseases. “They should ensure that all doses are taken, so that the vaccine can be effective.”
On his part, WHO Country Representative, Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said there is need to continue to engage traditional and religious institutions, as well as other key stakeholders at the community level, to stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus “and to address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio and other vaccine preventable disease outbreaks, including measles.”
Poliovirus transmission is expected to increase in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in many under-immunized areas of Africa, according to WHO and UNICEF. Failure to eradicate polio now would lead to global resurgence of the disease, resulting in as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services, worldwide.