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Measles: Nearly 4 million Nigerian children missed vaccine

NEARLY four million Nigerian children under one year of age missed out on the first dose of measles vaccine in 2017, according to a UNICEF press release.

Nigeria had the highest number of unvaccinated children under one year of age against measles at nearly 4 million in 2017, according to the UN children Agency release which is part of the actions taken in the ongoing World Immunization Week.

Celebrated in the last week of April, World Immunization Week aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

UNICEF said in the statement that the “widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreaks hitting several countries around the world today”.

The UNICEF analysis comes after preliminary global data that indicated that the number of measles cases in the first quarter of 2019 has tripled compared with the same in 2018.

“So far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to WHO. At this time last year, 163 countries had reported 28,124 cases,” WHO said in the preliminary report.

The health agency had said measles is entirely preventable with the right vaccines. But global coverage of the first immunisation stage has stalled at 85 per cent, against the 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks.

According to the UNICEF statement today, an estimated 169 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017. It added that over 21 million missed the vaccine globally every year on average.

The agency included that the situation is critical in the low- and middle-income countries where Nigeria falls in.

“In 2017, for example, Nigeria had the highest number of children under one year of age who missed out on the first dose, at nearly 4 million,” the statement read in part. Nigeria was followed by India with 2.9 million, Pakistan and Indonesia with1.2 million each, and Ethiopia that had 1.1 million unvaccinated children.

 “The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director in the press statement.

“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”

UNICEF included that two doses of the measles vaccine are essential to protect children from the disease.

However, the agency noted that due to lack of access, poor health systems, complacency, and in some cases fear or scepticism about vaccines, the global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine was reported at 85 per cent in 2017, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the last decade despite population growth.

Global coverage for the second dose is much lower, at 67 per cent while the WHO recommended a threshold of 95 per cent immunization coverage to achieve so-called ‘herd immunity’.

Worldwide coverage levels of the second dose of the measles vaccines are even more alarming, according to UNICEF.

“Of the top 20 countries with the largest number of unvaccinated children in 2017, nine have not introduced the second dose. Twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not introduced the necessary second dose in the national vaccination schedule, putting over 17 million infants a year at higher risk of measles during their childhood,” part of the statement read.

“Measles is far too contagious,” said UNICEF executive director. “It is critical not only to increase coverage but also to sustain vaccination rates at the right doses to create an umbrella of immunity for everyone.”

UNICEF noted its pledge to help address the measles crisis with other partners such as  Measles and Rubella Initiative and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The agency said its working to reduce the cost of the vaccine and to help countries identify underserved areas and unreached children.

Another thing the agency said is to work with relevant countries to introduce the second dose of the measles vaccine in the national immunization schedule. It noted that “Nigeria, Cameroon, and Liberia and are on track to do so in 2019”.

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