Multiple and simultaneous epidemics on the rise in West and Central Africa
In response to the recurrence of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks among children in the region over the past few years, UNICEF is calling for stronger prevention and response efforts to save lives
DAKAR/CONAKRY, 16 November 2022 - The increase in simultaneous epidemics in West and Central Africa over the past few years stresses the urgency of rethinking how to deal with these epidemics among children and communities, including through strengthening prevention, improving synergies among all basic services and pooling resources, stated UNICEF during the Forum on the management of such epidemics, held this week in Conakry, Guinea.
In 2021, 118 epidemics were reported in the Africa region of the World Health Organization, compared to 106 in 2020. By the end of October 2022, 129 outbreaks had already been reported in the same region, often occurring simultaneously and spilling over borders. Nearly three out of five epidemics (57 percent) occur in 24 countries in West and Central Africa.
At the same time, many countries experienced a decline in routine immunization coverage for children. Between 2019 and 2021, child immunization coverage stagnated or even declined in West and Central Africa, partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only two-thirds (67 percent) of the children in the region received the necessary three doses of DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), with large disparities between countries, compared to a global average of 81 percent.
The government of Guinea, which is hosting the November 16-18 National forum on the management of multiple and simultaneous epidemics with the support of partners including UNICEF, has faced several such epidemics in 2021, including Ebola, yellow fever, Lassa fever, Marburg fever, polio, measles and COVID-19. The implementation of the last measles and meningitis integrated campaign was delayed by two years partly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a resurgence of measles epidemic in 2021 and 2022.
"Epidemics affect the health of children and communities, and weaken health systems. In a context of limited resources, there is a pressing need for a paradigm shift to save lives," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "Emphasis should be placed on prevention by investing in cost-effective interventions with proven results, such as routine immunization. Pooling of resources and mobilization of all governmental actors involved, well beyond the Health sector, as well as their partners, is essential. Finally, we should also foster greater community engagement. "
The causes underlying the recurrence of concomitant epidemics are manifold. In addition to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these include suboptimal epidemic prevention and response mechanisms, climate change, a socioeconomic context of increasing household poverty, and poor performance of routine immunization systems against a background of weak health systems across countries. Organizing immunization campaigns covering multiple epidemics, rather than parallel campaigns for specific epidemics, would significantly increase the effectiveness of these efforts while reducing the costs and burden on health systems.
Many West and Central African countries have already begun to implement strategies aimed at improving the prevention and control of these epidemics, including the integration of responses and the coordination of efforts. In Guinea and other countries in the region, for example, COVID-19 vaccine is being integrated into the Expanded Programme on Immunization.
The purpose of the Forum is to strengthen existing national preparedness, response and coordination mechanisms, as well as synergies in collaboration and integration of multisectoral efforts to better address public health emergencies.
For more information, please contact:
UNICEF Guinea: Sibylle Desjardins, +224 610 00 6508, firstname.lastname@example.org
UNICEF West and Central Africa : Diane Yaméogo, +221 77 332 43 26, email@example.com
UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being 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 West and Central Africa, visit https://www.unicef.org/wca.