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COVID-19 Disruptions Spur New Outbreaks of Immunisable Diseases in Africa

The nearly 10 per cent rise in missed vaccinations on the previous year in Africa was driven by disruptions to health services by the COVID-19 pandemic, new data by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) show.
Only 11 countries in Africa met the requirements for quality measles surveillance last year, as countries fell to their lowest level in the last seven years in 2020.

Also, between January 2020 and April 2021, eight African countries reported measles outbreaks affecting tens of thousands of children largely due to low routine immunization coverage or delayed vaccination campaigns attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Affected countries include DR Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Chad and the Central African Republic. Around 7.7 million African children missed out on vital first doses of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Measles and Polio vaccines in 2020. The nearly 10 per cent rise in missed vaccinations on the previous year in Africa was driven by disruptions to health services by the COVID-19 pandemic, new data by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) show.

Three African countries are among the top 10 countries globally to record the greatest number of unvaccinated children in 2020 for the first dose of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTP -1) and Measles: Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Overall, Africa still accounts for the highest percentage of children who have not received DTP -1 in the world. Despite impressive efforts to scale up supplemental immunization campaigns while grappling with the myriad demands of the pandemic, the 7.7 million children in Africa that missed DTP-1 vaccines make up 45 per cent of the global figure.

The latest WHO-UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage are the first to reflect global service disruptions due to COVID-19. In 2020, 3.7 million more children globally missed out on routine immunization than in 2019. In Africa, 1.7 million children did not receive their third dose of the DTP containing vaccine in 2020.

Data for the WHO African Region showed reductions in percentage coverage across the board between 2019 and 2020.  For instance, Coverage for the DTP-1 vaccine fell by a percentage point to 79 per cent in 2020, for DTP-3 from 74 per cent to 72 per cent, and for MCV1 from 70 per cent to 68 per cent. 

Globally, DTP-1 coverage fell from 90 per cent to 87 per cent between 2019 and 2020, from 86 per cent to 83 per cent for DTP-3, and 86 per cent to 84 per cent for MCV1. These vaccination rates are far below the 90 per cent coverage target of Africa’s Regional Vaccine Action Plan and far below the 95 per cent coverage recommended by WHO to protect against measles. 

The global Immunization Agenda 2030 meanwhile, has the ambitious target of achieving 90 per cent coverage for all essential childhood vaccinations in the next nine years. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, expressed concern that while countries were focusing on COVID-19 vaccines, children were being put at risk.

"We have gone backwards on other vaccinations, leaving children at risk from devastating but preventable diseases like measles, polio or meningitis,” he said, warning that multiple disease outbreaks could be catastrophic for communities and health systems already under pressure from COVID-19.

"This makes it even more urgent than ever to invest in childhood vaccinations and to ensure that every child is reached,” Dr Tedros cautioned

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