South Asia warned of child health crisis amid COVID-19

Kathmandu, Apr 28 (efe-epa).- South Asia could face another health emergency since there is a danger of children across the region missing out on life-saving vaccine shots due to coronavirus lockdowns, the UNICEF warned on Tuesday.

The region is home to some 4.5 million unimmunized or partially immunized kids and most of them, or 97 percent, live in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund said.

“With lockdowns in place as a part of the novel coronavirus response, routine immunizations have been severely disrupted, and parents are increasingly reluctant to take their children to health centers for routine jabs,” the UNICEF said in a statement.

The UN agency warned that sporadic outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and diphtheria, have been detected in parts of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

The 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 canceled flights. The manufacturing of the vaccines has also been disrupted, creating additional shortages,” said Paul Rutter, Regional Health Advisor for the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA).

Many of the health facilities throughout the region for vaccination of millions of children are closed and outreach sessions 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,” Rutter emphasized.

National mass vaccination campaigns have been postponed across the region.

Bangladesh and Nepal have postponed their national measles and rubella campaigns while Pakistan and Afghanistan have suspended their polio campaigns.

UNICEF “strongly” recommended that governments must 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,” said 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.” EFE-EPA


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