Millions of children are at risk of contracting diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio as life-saving immunization services around the world are disrupted due to COVID 19.
This stark warning comes from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
A Global Vaccine Summit is set to take place on June 4 in London, at which world leaders will come together to help maintain immunization programs and mitigate the impact of the pandemic in lower-income countries.
At the Summit, donors will pledge their support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to sustain and accelerate this lifesaving work in some of the most vulnerable countries. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, urged donors to fully fund the Alliance.
Provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries, he said at a media briefing.
Routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale since March.
Transport delays of vaccines are exacerbating the situation. UNICEF has reported a substantial delay in planned vaccine deliveries due to the lock down measures and the ensuing decline in commercial flights and limited availability of charters.
UNICEF appealed to governments, the private sector, the airline industry, and others, to free up freight space at an affordable cost for these life-saving vaccines.
Despite the challenges, several countries such as Uganda and Laos are making special efforts to continue immunization, the UN health agency noted.
So far, Africa is the least-affected region globally in terms of the number of cases and deaths reported to WHO.
“Any suspension of childhood vaccination services is a major threat to life. WHO is working with governments around the world to ensure supply chains remain open and lifesaving health services are reaching all communities,” Tedros said.
Next week, WHO will issue new advice to countries on maintaining essential services during the pandemic, including recommendations on how to provide immunizations safely.
Many countries have temporarily and justifiably suspended preventive mass vaccination campaigns against diseases like cholera, measles, meningitis, polio, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever, due to risk of transmission and the need to maintain physical distancing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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