Africa is witnessing a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, polio and yellow fever in what signals the impact of a disrupted immunisation routine caused by Covid-19.
According to the World Health Organisation, tens of millions of people have missed out on routine immunisation services putting people in danger and creating an environment in which killer diseases can thrive and spread.
WHO Director of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases Benido Impouma said the continent reported almost 17,500 cases of measles between January and March 2022 — a 400 percent increase compared with the same period in 2021.
Mr Impouma said 20 African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of this year, eight more than in the first three months of 2021.
“Outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases have become more common. Twenty-four countries confirmed outbreaks of a polio variant in 2021, which is four more than in 2020. In 2021, 13 countries reported new yellow fever outbreaks in Africa, compared with nine in 2020 and three in 2019,” said Mr Impouma.
Revival and resilience
He was speaking at a WHO virtual press conference, that included Dr Kailash Jagutpal, Minister of Health and Wellness of Mauritius; Prof Helen Rees of University of Witwatersrand; Dr Thierno Balde, WHO Regional Covid-19 Incident Manager; and Dr Messeret Shibeshi, the immunisation officer.
“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,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
“Vaccines are at the heart of a successful public health response, and as countries restore services, routine immunisation must be at the core of revived and resilient health systems.”
Two doses of the measles vaccine provided on schedule can provide long lasting protection against the potentially deadly disease.
Countries are expected to attain and maintain measles vaccination coverage of 95 percent with two doses to reach measles elimination.
WHO and partners support African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns.