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Covid19:UN warns 117 million children worldwide at measles risk

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Currently 24 countries, including several already dealing with large measles outbreaks, have suspended widespread vaccinations, the World Health Organization and the UN’s children’s fund UNICEF said.

By Yana Mir

Paris, 14 Apr 2020

Around 117 million children worldwide risk contracting measles because dozens of countries are curtailing their vaccination programmes as they battle COVID-19, the United Nations warned Tuesday.

Currently 24 countries, including several already dealing with large measles outbreaks, have suspended widespread vaccinations, the World Health Organization and the UN’s children’s fund UNICEF said.

An additional 13 countries have had their vaccination programmes interrupted due to COVID-19.

In a joint statement, the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI) said it was vital that immunisation capacity was retained during and after the current pandemic.

“Together, more than 117 million children… could be impacted by the suspension of scheduled immunization activities,” it said.

“The M&RI supports the need to protect communities and health workers from COVID-19 through a pause of mass campaigns, where risks of the disease are high.”

“However, this should not mean that children permanently miss out.”

Measles, a highly contagious disease, effects around 20 million people every year, the majority of whom are aged under five.

Despite a cheap and readily available vaccine, measles cases have surged in recent years, largely in part to what the WHO terms “vaccine hesitancy”.

In 2018, 140,000 measles deaths, mostly among children and babies, were recorded — most were preventable, meaning that the countries they occurred in had a vaccination programme.

Of the two dozen countries to have officially suspended measles vaccine programmes — ostensibly to protect health workers and prioritise COVID-19 response — several have seen worrying rises in measles cases in recent years.

In particular, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are all battling large outbreaks.

DR Congo alone has had 6,000 measles deaths in its current epidemic.

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