The coronavirus pandemic could jeopardise vaccination campaigns across the Middle East and North Africa, the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) has said, warning that millions of children could miss out on polio and measles immunisations.
“As a result, one in five children or 10 million children under the age of five risk missing their polio vaccination,” UNICEF said in a statement on Sunday. “Nearly 4.5 million children under the age of 15 risk missing their measles vaccination.”
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Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s regional director, said it was “absolutely critical that every child gets immunised against deadly diseases including polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis”.
He said measures including disinfection, protective clothing and physical distancing meant that “immunisation for children is possible” even in the time of the new coronavirus, which causes a highly infectious respiratory disease known as COVID-19.
“COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching health systems, as frontline workers are supporting the outbreak response. Despite that, nearly 1.5 million children on average are getting their vaccines every month,” Chaiban said.
UNICEF said most countries in the region were continuing with routine campaigns, under strict controls to prevent the spread of the virus.
But the UN body warned that some vaccination campaigns had been suspended as health workers were diverted to fighting COVID-19.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization warned in mid-April that approximately 117 million children worldwide risked contracting measles as dozens of countries curtailed vaccination programmes to battle the pandemic.
In many parts of Africa, medical aid projects that might normally include measles and other vaccine campaigns have stalled as countries closed their borders and limited routine health services.