FILE - A health official administers a polio vaccine to children at a camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016.
FILE - A health official administers a polio vaccine to children at a camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016.

GENEVA - The World Health Organization warns that millions of children in Africa are not receiving life-saving vaccinations against preventable killer diseases because most efforts are focused on ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Latest WHO figures find more than 4.4 million COVID-19 cases on the African continent, including 118,000 deaths.

Crucial immunization campaigns against diseases such as measles, polio and yellow fever have been put on hold while countries tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, the World Health Organization reports that 15 African countries last year delayed measles immunization campaigns to deal with the pandemic. WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says seven of these countries have since completed the campaigns, but eight have not, risking outbreaks of this deadly disease. 

FILE - Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa attends a briefing for World Health Assembly (WHA) delegates on the Ebola outbreak response in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2018.
WHO: Africa Left Behind in Race for COVID-19 Vaccine 
World Health Organization says Africa’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccine is being hampered by supply shortages and delays in planned deliveries

"Preliminary data show that an estimated 16.6 million children in Africa missed planned supplemental measles vaccine doses between January 2020 and April 2021," Moeti said. "As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously exposed to other preventable diseases.”

Moeti says hopes are growing that vaccines will help bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. At the same time, she says many of the millions of African children who are not being reached by routine vaccinations are at risk of dying. She says this must not and need not happen.

Sierra Leone’s minister of health and sanitation, Austin Demby, agrees. He says vaccines really do work, and regular vaccinations for children must be maintained. He says immunization coverage in his country has improved steadily in the past five years before the COVID-19 outbreak. As a consequence, he says Sierra Leone has gone for a number of years without major outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and yellow fever.

"Despite the gains that have been made in immunization coverage over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to adverse effects on vaccination coverage across the country. … With all eyes focused on COVID-19 vaccines, other crucial vaccination commitments must not be forgotten,” said Demby.

WHO reports 41 African countries so far have received over 18 million doses through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility. This number, it says, includes seven countries that received their first deliveries last week due to shipment delays.

Moeti says Africa’s vaccine rollout also has been delayed because of production limitations in India, which is facing a severe wave of COVID-19. However, she says WHO has been informed that India will resume vaccine supplies to Africa in early May.

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