New Telegraph

Measles outbreak looms as 15 African nations delay vaccination drives

…16.6m children miss doses in 19 months

Fifteen African countries delayed measles immunisation drives last year as they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. While seven of these countries have now completed the campaigns, eight remain outstanding, posing a risk of major measles outbreaks, according to New Telegraphinvestigations. 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 and eight African countries reported major measles outbreaks that affected tens of thousands during the period. New Telegraph gathered that the outbreaks were largely due to low routine immunization 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. World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who explained the impact of the risk, said: “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 lifesaving vaccination campaigns.

“Measles is highly contagious; requiring at least 95 per cent immunisation coverage in the population to prevent outbreaks, yet coverage with the first dose of the measles-containing vaccine has stagnated at around 69 per cent in the WHO African Region since 2013. Only seven countries in the region achieved 95 per cent measles-containing vaccine coverage in 2019. The low measles coverage reflects a wider stagnation in routine immunization in Africa that, in some countries, has been exacerbated by the pandemic and related restrictions.

“Most diseases, including tetanus, diphtheria and yellow fever, require 90 per cent coverage in the population, yet rates in Africa remained stuck at around 70 per cent to 75 per cent over the last decade. “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.” Recall that despite challenges, Africa was declared wild polio-free in 2020. Vaccines are having a huge impact on diseases like cervical cancer, hepatitis and Ebola.

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