South Asian children are at risk as Coronavirus disrupts immunization drive: UNICEF

The deadly virus outbreak has infected more than 3 million people globally and claimed the lives of over 200,000 people worldwide

The disruption of the immunisation programmes all over South Asia because of the deadly coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic is creating problems to the attempts of vaccinating millions of children against the deadly disease, the UNICEF warned on Tuesday.

The outbreak has also interrupted the supply of vaccine and left the families fearful of attending clinics, the UNICEF stated which is creating another health crisis in a region containing 4.5 million children who were not fully immunized against diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio.

Children in South Asia are at risk: UNICEF

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"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," said Jean Gough, director of UNICEF's South Asia office, in a statement. "This is a very serious threat." More than 1.5 million people die globally of diseases that could be prevented by vaccinations, according to UNICEF.

Pakistan, which along with Afghanistan is home to one of the world's last polio outbreaks, has suspended its vaccination campaign against the crippling disease. In one epicentre, the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, senior government officials and health workers told Reuters they were concerned about a possible rise in the polio cases.

Globally polio cases have been cut by more than 99% since 1988

"We completely stopped our efforts since the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and missed two important campaigns so far," said one official with the polio eradication programme in Peshawar, adding he expected it would be months before the campaign could resume.

Globally polio cases have been cut by more than 99 percent since 1988, but it remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan. More than 100 people were infected in Pakistan in 2019, a resurgence from a record low global annual figure of 22 cases in 2017. Spokesmen for Pakistan's health minister and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's provincial government did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Pakistan's polio eradication programme, which has long had to battle against rumours and social media campaigns claiming the vaccine is harmful to children, sends workers into communities to educate families on the benefits of immunization. But since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 lung disease, workers have been reassigned.

"Since the polio campaign stopped ... in February, we are tracing people arriving from overseas, those having symptoms similar to coronavirus and holding meetings with local residents and prayer leaders to ensure social distance in mosques," said one worker in Peshawar. "I am doing a completely different job... I fear the number of polio cases will definitely rise after the coronavirus outbreak is over."

(With agency inputs)

Related topics : Coronavirus