The Ghana Health Service says a shortage of routine vaccines for children blamed for a measles outbreak that infected 120 will be resolved within weeks. Health officials said the shortage of vaccines against polio, hepatitis B, and measles was caused by the depreciation of Ghana's currency, the cedi. The Pediatric Society of Ghana warned childhood diseases could quickly spread if the vaccines were not soon made available.
For months, nursing mothers have been complaining of shortage of vaccines meant for babies from birth to at least 18 months.
The situation became worse in February after major health facilities in 10 out of the 16 administrative regions of Ghana kept turning nursing mothers away due to erratic supply.
Vivian Helemi said her baby girl missed one of the key vaccinations last month and the situation has not changed after combing three health centers on Monday. Like other mothers, Helemi is worried the shortage of the essential vaccines for infants will pose a threat to her child.
“It has been frustrating moving from one hospital to another,” she told VOA. “I don’t know what could happen to my baby because she is yet to receive her second vaccination. I am confused because no one is telling me when the vaccines will be ready.”
Timely vaccination of children, according to UNICEF, is a proven method for saving lives from vaccine-preventable diseases. It can also help attain some targets like the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.
UNICEF’s Ghana office says on its website that the country has seen a significant fall in deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, since 2003, there has been no death caused by measles, while in 2011, Ghana was certified as having attained elimination status for maternal and neonatal tetanus.
Dr. Agyeiwaa Bonuedie, a member of the Pediatric Society of Ghana, said the government must act now in order not to erode the gains made so far.
“It’s the first time I am hearing of such widespread shortages. We do have shortages from time to time, however, those are in very limited circumstances. The problem this time is that it has gone over for several months. This should actually be a thing of the past. The government should be encouraged to do what we call ring-fenced funding such that budgetary allocations for vaccines are actually protected, no matter what other dire or pressing needs the country has, the children should be secured in that light,” said Bonuedie.
The director-general of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said the situation will change by the end of March.
“We have had some delays in procuring some of those vaccines for which polio, MR [Measles-Rubella], and BCG [bacille Calmette-Guerin] are in short supply. It was also because the ministry’s budget to procure them are in cedis, and at the time it was due for procurement, because of exchange differences it was very difficult to procure, so now we have done it… we hope that within the next three weeks we will address it,” he said.
Parliament has summoned the West African country’s health minister Kwaku Agyeman-Manu to discuss the vaccine shortage. The next few weeks are crucial for many children, especially those who live in inner cities and dense parts of urban areas and are exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases at an early age.