Vaccine-Preventable Disease Outbreaks Increase in Africa
Africa has been witnessing a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases over the past year, announced the World Health Organization (WHO).
Disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic impaired routine immunization services in many African countries and forced the suspension of vaccination drives.
In 2020, 23 million children missed out on childhood vaccines, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019.
One of the diseases is measles.
Twenty African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of 2022.
As of April 28, 2022, about 17,500 cases of measles were recorded in the African region between January and March 2022, marking a 400% increase compared with the same period in 2021.
Apart from its direct effect on the body, which can be lethal, the measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like pneumonia, says the WHO.
“Measles is more than a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. But, unfortunately, it is also an early indication that there are gaps in our global immunization coverage, gaps vulnerable children cannot afford,” commented Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director.
Fortunately, the U.S. has avoided the measles outbreak.
As of April 1, 2022, a total of 2 measles cases were reported by U.S. jurisdictions to the CDC.
Outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases have also become more common.
Twenty-four countries confirmed outbreaks of a variant of polio in 2021, which is four more than in 2020.
And in 2021, 13 countries reported yellow fever outbreaks in the African region, compared to nine in 2020 and just three in 2019.
“The rise in outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases is a warning sign. As Africa works hard to defeat COVID-19, we must not forget other health threats,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a related press release.
“Health systems could be severely strained not only by COVID-19 but by other diseases.”
“Vaccines are at the heart of a successful public health response, and as countries restore services, routine immunization must be at the core of revived and resilient health systems.”
To urgently scale up coverage and protect children, the WHO and partners are supporting African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns, with more than 90% of the 38 African countries responding to a global survey reporting that they implemented at least one routine catch-up immunization campaign in the second half of 2021.
Some countries have successfully integrated other critical immunization campaigns with COVID-19 vaccination.
For example, Nigeria recently launched a vaccine scale-up strategy that guides the integration of routine immunization with COVID-19 vaccination for mothers and their babies.
Between January and April 2022, the percentage of Africans fully vaccinated against the coronavirus rose to 17.1% from 11.1%.
“In the wake of this pandemic, we are committed to support countries to devise smart approaches to scale up COVID-19 vaccination and restore and expand routine immunization services,” added Dr. Benido Impouma, Director, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa.
For example, Ghana integrated COVID-19 vaccination with yellow fever campaigns in December 2021 to curb an outbreak that erupted a month earlier.
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Note: The WHO announcement was edited for clarity and manually curated for mobile readership.