Vaccine preventable disease outbreaks on the rise in Africa

Africa is witnessing a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases over the past year.

Almost 17, 500 cases of measles were recorded in the African region between January and March 2022, marking a 400 percent increase compared with the same period in 2021.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO twenty African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of this year, eight more than that in the first three months of 2021.

In a virtual press conference today, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said that 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.

Outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases have also become more common and twenty-four countries confirmed outbreaks of a variant of polio in 2021, which is four more than in 2020.

“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. Health systems could be severely strained not only by COVID-19 but by other diseases,” Dr. Moeti said

WHO says that inequalities in accessing vaccines, disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic including a huge strain on health system capacities impaired routine immunization services in many African countries and forced the suspension of vaccination drive.

To urgently scale up coverage and protect children, WHO and partners are thus supporting African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns, with more than 90 percent  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.

Benido Impouma, Director, Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa acknowledged that routine immunization, a long-established practice in many African countries, has been severely strained by the impact of COVID-19.

However, he said that WHO is committed to supporting countries to devise smart approaches to scale up both COVID-19 vaccination and restore and expand routine immunization services.

WHO has gone ahead to say that all is not lost since some countries have successfully integrated other critical immunization campaigns with COVID-19 vaccination.

Mass vaccination campaigns are also boosting COVID-19 vaccine uptake and between January and April, the percentage of Africans fully vaccinated against the virus rose to 17.1 percent from 11.1 percent.

This week the world is commemorating World Immunization week and WHO aims to highlight the collective action needed and to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

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