WHO: Vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks on the rise in Africa

FILE PHOTO: A sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI via CFP)
FILE PHOTO: A sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. /CFP

The World Health Organization reiterated on Thursday that the African continent is witnessing a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases over the past year.

Inequalities in accessing vaccines, and disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic impaired routine immunization services in many African countries, where vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks have been recently on the rise, warned the WHO Regional Office for Africa in a statement released Thursday.

Almost 17,500 cases of measles have been recorded in the African region between January and March 2022, marking a 400 percent increase compared with the same period in 2021, while 20 African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of this year, said the WHO Regional Office for Africa, noting outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases have also been on the rise, including polio and yellow fever.

“The rise in outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases is a warning sign. As Africa works hard to defeat COVID-19, we must not forget other health threats. Health systems could be severely strained not only by COVID-19 but by other diseases,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti. “Vaccines are at the heart of a successful public health response, and as countries restore services, routine immunization must be at the core of revived and resilient health systems.”

To urgently scale up coverage and protect children, the WHO and partners are supporting African countries to carry out catch-up routine vaccination campaigns, with more than 90 percent of the 38 African countries responding to a global survey reporting that they implemented at least one routine catch-up immunization campaign in the second half of 2021.

Mass vaccination campaigns are also boosting COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Between January and April, the percentage of Africans fully vaccinated against the virus rose to 17.1 percent from 11.1 percent, according to the WHO.

“Routine immunization, a long-established practice in many African countries, has been severely strained by the impact of COVID-19. In the wake of this pandemic, we are committed to helping countries devise smart approaches to scale up both COVID-19 vaccination and restore and expand routine immunization services,” said Benido Impouma, director of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa.