As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt access to immunisation worldwide, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) made an urgent call on Friday for action to prevent a large measles and polio endemic across the globe.
According to the organisations, the coronavirus pandemic has left millions of children vulnerable to preventable diseases.
In 2019, measles infection was at its highest in two decades. If measures are not taken, a resurgence of the disease could take place, resulting in around 200,000 cases yearly within 10 years.
Nigeria was declared polio free earlier in August.
UNICEF and WHO estimates that about 655 million dollars are needed to address the “dangerous immunity gaps in non-Gavi eligible countries and target age groups”. They estimated 400 million for polio and 255 dollars for measles immunisation.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, elaborated on the importance of taking immediate action to save the lives of children from these deadly diseases.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular, immunisation services, worldwide. But unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles. What we need are the resources and commitments to put these tools and knowledge into action. If we do that, children’s lives will be saved,” he said.
Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, similarly said the COVID-19 pandemic should not be prioritised above other killer diseases.
“We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases. Addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic is critical. However, other deadly diseases also threaten the lives of millions of children in some of the poorest areas of the world.
“That is why today we are urgently calling for global action from country leaders, donors and partners. We need additional financial resources to safely resume vaccination campaigns and prioritise immunisation systems that are critical to protect children and avert other epidemics besides COVID-19,” she added.
The two organisations say new tools, including a next generational novel oral vaccine and the forthcoming Measles Outbreak Strategic Response Plan, will be deployed over the coming months to help tackle the growing threats in a more effective and sustainable manner.
“The plan is a worldwide strategy to quickly and effectively prevent, detect and respond to measles outbreaks, ” they emphasised.