UNICEF, WHO call for action to prevent measles, polio epidemics

(Source: @UNICEF)

New Delhi (NVI): As COVID-19 continues to disrupt immunization services around the world, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have called for an emergency action to avert major measles and polio epidemics.

The disrupted immunization services have left millions of vulnerable children at heightened risk of preventable childhood diseases, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO said in a joint statement.

Both the organizations estimate that a USD 655 million fund (USD.400 million for polio and USD 255 million for measles) is needed to address dangerous immunity gaps in non-Gavi eligible countries and target age groups.

The financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, enabled access to funding for outbreak response, preventive campaigns and routine immunisation strengthening in eligible countries, the joint statement said.

“However, financing gaps remain in middle-income countries that are not Gavi-eligible and the emergency call to raise funds and support would go to these regions,” it added.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services worldwide.”

“But unlike with COVID, 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,” Tedros added.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director also said, “We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases.”

“Addressing the 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 today we are urgently calling for global action from country leaders, donors and partners, Fore added.

Meanwhile, there has been a global resurgence of measles with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world and gaps in vaccination coverage have been further exacerbated this year by COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations said.

In 2019, measles climbed to the highest number of new infections in more than two decades. “Annual measles mortality data for 2019 to be released next week will show the continued negative toll that sustained outbreaks are having in many countries around the world,” the joint statement stated.

Simultaneously, poliovirus transmission is expected to increase in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in many under-immunized areas of Africa, the agencies said, adding that, the failure to eradicate polio now would lead to global resurgence of the disease, resulting in as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years.

The two organizations further informed that, new tools, including a next-generation novel oral polio vaccine and the forthcoming Measles Outbreak Strategic Response Plan are expected to be deployed over the coming months.

It will help tackle these growing threats in a more effective and sustainable manner, and ultimately save lives. This plan is a worldwide strategy to quickly and effectively prevent, detect and respond to measles outbreaks, the statement added.