Fred Ezeh, Abuja
World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Children Fund (UNICEF) have raised the alarm over a possible outbreak of measles and polio in Nigeria.
This was because of the disruption in immunisation caused by COVID-19 pandemic, as well as inadequate improvements in increasing the routine immunization coverage in children receiving lifesaving vaccines, even though Nigeria was declared free of the wild poliovirus in August 2020.
The United Nations agencies expressed fear that millions of vulnerable children in Nigeria are at high risk of preventable childhood diseases as a result.
They, however, suggested that emergency action be taken by the Nigerian government, engaging the 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 vaccine-derived polio and other vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, including measles.
The UN agencies in a statement released on Wednesday confirmed that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and immunization services worldwide but that should not be excused to pay less attention to other diseases.
The UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said: “We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases.
“Addressing 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 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.”
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “But unlike with COVID-19, 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.”
They maintained that immunization remains the best way to secure the future of children.
“It’s 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, ensuring that all doses are taken so that the vaccine can be effective,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative.