By Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted immunisations against deadly diseases, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have called on the federal government to increase funding for immunization in order to avert major measles and polio epidemics.
The organisations have also estimated that $655 million — $400 million for polio and $255 million for measles — are needed to address dangerous immunity gaps in non-GAVI eligible countries and target age groups.
They also said that failure to eradicate polio now, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as in some other African countries, would lead to global resurgence of the disease, resulting in as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years.
In a statement signed by UNICEF communications specialist, Oluwatosin Akingbulu, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said Nigeria cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to lead to the loss of ground in the fight against other diseases.
She said Nigeria remains at risk of both polio and measles outbreaks due to the inadequate improvements in increasing the routine immunization coverage in children receiving lifesaving vaccines. Nigeria was declared free of the wild poliovirus in August 2020.
Also, measles continues to be among the leading cause of death and disability among children, with first dose of measles vaccination coverage of only 54 per cent as reported by the National Demographic Health Survey, 2018.
According to her, “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 prioritize immunization systems that are critical to protect children and avert other epidemics besides COVID-19.”
The UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Mr. Peter Hawkins, also added that immunization is the best way to secure the future of the Nigerian child, adding that it is very safe, effective and available at all government health centres.
He called on all caregivers and parents on the need to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated and protected from childhood killer diseases, including ensuring that all doses are taken so that the vaccine can be effective.
“Immunization is the best way to secure the future of our children. It is very safe, effective and available at all government health centres. All caregivers and parents need to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated and protected from childhood killer diseases – including ensuring that all doses are taken, so that the vaccine can be effective,” he said.
In his speech, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services worldwide, but unlike COVID, the organization has tools and the knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles.
He said: “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.”
In the same vein, WHO country representative, Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said there must be a continued engagement of traditional and religious institutions, as well as other key stakeholders at the community level who will stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus.
“We must continue to engage traditional and religious institutions, as well as other key stakeholders at the community level, to stay vigilant and keep up vaccination rates to avert a resurgence of the wild poliovirus – and to address the continued threat of the vaccine-derived polio and other vaccine preventable disease outbreaks, including measles.”
In recent years, there has been a global resurgence of measles with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world. Vaccination coverage gaps have been further exacerbated in 2020 by COVID-19. In 2019, measles climbed to the highest number of new infections in more than two decades.