By Sola Ogundipe
More than 60 percent of children who are unvaccinated or are not fully vaccinated with basic vaccines live in 10 countries that are either partially or entirely affected by conflict, UNICEF, has said.
The affected countries are Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and South Africa. UNICEF said among the countries in conflict, South Sudan has the highest percentage of unvaccinated children, with 61 per cent not receiving the most basic childhood vaccines, followed by Somalia (58 per cent) and Syria (57 per cent).
Disclosing this at the beginning of the World Immunisation Week 2016, 24-30 April, UNICEF Chief of Immunisation Robin Nandy noted that “Conflict creates an ideal environment for disease outbreaks. Children miss out on basic immunisations because of the breakdown – and sometimes deliberate destruction – of vital health services.
”The major causes of childhood illness and death include measles, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition, which can worsen in conflict and emergencies, according to UNICEF. “Children affected by conflict are pushed into a downward spiral of deprivation that robs them of their health and, by extension, their futures. Vaccination can help to break this vicious cycle. Immunisation is a vital service that deserves and requires protection from all parties to a conflict,” Nandy stated.
Highlighting recent gains in immunisation coverage, and outlining steps countries can take to “Close the Immunisation Gap” and meet global vaccination targets by 2020, WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, stated: “Last year immunisation led to some notable wins in the fight against polio, rubella and maternal and neonatal tetanus. But they were isolated wins. Polio was eliminated in one country, tetanus in three, and rubella in one geographical region. The challenge now is to make gains like this the norm.” Chan stated that immunisation averts 2 to 3 million deaths annually, but an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage improves.
One of the major breakthroughs in 2015 was the removal of Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries, taking the African Region one-step closer to being certified polio-free despite challenges imposed by Ebola.