WHO warns against return of preventable diseases in Africa


‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja


Daily Courier – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concerns over the increase in the number of vaccine-preventable diseases in Africa, blaming the current situation on inequalities in accessing vaccines, disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a huge strain on health systems, as well as impaired routine immunisation services in many African countries.

WHO said 24 countries confirmed outbreaks of a variant of polio in 2021, which is four times more than in 2020. In 2021 also, 13 countries reported new yellow fever outbreaks in the African region, compared to nine in 2020 and 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. 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,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

To urgently scale up coverage and protect children, the WHO said it was partnering African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns, with more than 90 per cent 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.

Director, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Benido Impouma, said, “Routine immunization, a long-established practise in many African countries, has been severely strained by the impact of COVID-19. In the wake of this pandemic, we are committed to supporting countries’ device smart approaches to scale up both COVID-19 vaccination and restore and expand routine immunization services.

“Mass vaccination campaigns are also boosting COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Between January and April, the percentage of Africans fully vaccinated against the virus rose to 17.1 per cent from 11.1 per cent,” WHO added.