Disruption of child vaccination in South Asia poses an urgent threat to children’s health – UNICEF

4.5 million of South Asia’s children miss out on routine immunization, even before COVID-19

28 April 2020
immunization
UNICEF Afghanistan/2020

KATHMANDU, 28 April 2020 – South Asia could face yet another health emergency if children across the region do not receive their life-saving vaccine shots, UNICEF warned today.

Almost a quarter of the world’s unimmunized or partially immunized children—about 4.5 million children—live in South Asia. Almost all of them, or 97 per cent, live in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. With lockdowns in place as a part of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) response, routine immunizations have been severely disrupted, and parents are increasingly reluctant to take their children to health centers for routine jabs. Sporadic outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and diphtheria, have already been seen in parts of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

The South Asia region is also home to two of the last polio endemic countries in the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Vaccine stocks are running dangerously low in some countries of the region as supply chains have been disrupted with travel bans and cancelled flights. The manufacturing of the vaccines has also been disrupted, creating additional shortages,” says Paul Rutter, Regional Health Advisor for UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA).

Many of the health facilities throughout the region, where millions of children are normally vaccinated, have been closed and outreach sessions have been suspended, adding to the challenge.

“As long as frontline health workers take the appropriate precautions, particularly washing their hands, there is no reason not to vaccinate – in fact, it is crucial that vaccination continues,” says Paul Rutter.

Across the region, national mass vaccination campaigns have been postponed. Bangladesh and Nepal have postponed their national measles and rubella campaigns while Pakistan and Afghanistan have suspended their polio campaigns.

 

UNICEF strongly recommends that, where immunization campaigns are suspended, governments begin rigorous planning now to intensify immunization activities once the COVID -19 pandemic is under control.

“We are very concerned about the impact of not getting children vaccinated,” says Jean Gough, Director of UNICEF ROSA. “Many of these children are already vulnerable. While the COVID-19 virus does not appear to make many children seriously ill, the health of hundreds of thousands of children could be impacted by this disruption of regular immunization services. This is a very serious threat. Early action is key.”

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Notes to Editors:

 

About UNICEF: UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook.

 

The UNICEF South Asia region includes: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

 

Media contacts

Alison Parker
Chief, Communication, Advocacy and Civic Engagement
UNICEF Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0) 799 98 71 10
Ahmad Jan Nawzadi
Communication Officer
UNICEF Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0) 799 98 71 12

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Afghanistan, visit www.unicef.org/afghanistan.

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