Deadly childhood diseases are increasing in Ethiopia as war hampers vaccinations | Health

Deadly diseases like measles, tetanus and whooping cough are on the rise in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after vaccination rates plummeted during the civil war that broke out nearly two years ago, doctors and regional health officials say. The percentage of children in Tigray receiving routine immunizations has fallen below 10% this year, data from the Tigray Health Bureau shows, undoing years of government efforts to increase immunization rates. (Also read: Arthritis in childhood: common signs and symptoms of arthritis in children )

“The hopes of children in the region to become healthier and happier were dashed in the blink of an eye,” the office said in a letter to global vaccine alliance Gavi this month. The letter, seen by Reuters, attributed the drop in vaccinations to supply shortages caused by a so-called “siege” of Tigray by Ethiopian federal forces, power outages that have disrupted vaccine cold chains and the inability of rural people to get them to reach health facilities.

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A truce between March and late August between Tigrayan and federal forces allowed a trickle of medical aid, but access for humanitarian aid has been suspended since fighting resumed, a UN commission of human rights experts said on Monday. The experts said in a report that they had reasonable grounds to believe that denial of access to medical care and other assistance by federal agencies amounts to a crime against humanity.

Ethiopian government spokeswoman Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and Prime Minister’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the UN report. The government has repeatedly refused blocking aid and says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party’s ruling regional government, is responsible for the conflict that has killed thousands of civilians.

Measles Outbreak

Health Minister Lia Tadesse said vaccines had been delivered to Tigray this year and more are ready to be delivered as soon as conditions allow. In its letter, the Tigray Health Bureau said the percentage of children who received the full three doses of the pentavalent vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was 99.3% per year 2020 dropped to 36% in 2021 and 7% this year.

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According to the UN children’s fund UNICEF, the rate across Ethiopia was 65% in 2021. The letter said the percentage of children vaccinated against tuberculosis and measles has also fallen from over 90% in 2020 to less than 10% this year. Since the beginning of the war, there have been measles outbreaks in 10 of the region’s 35 districts and 25 cases of neonatal tetanus this year, compared with just two in each of the previous three years.

“Vaccines are given free of charge across Ethiopia, but they don’t come to Tigrayan children,” said Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital who said he has treated children with measles and whooping cough. Gavi, which buys and distributes vaccines to developing countries, said it provided measles and COVID-19 vaccines during the ceasefire, but some activities have halted since fighting resumed.

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Ethiopia’s Health Minister Lia said 860,000 doses of measles vaccine were shipped to Tigray last December and more doses were shipped on April 2. Another planned shipment is being suspended at the direction of the UN World Food Program, which is coordinating humanitarian shipments to Tigray, Lia said in a statement to Reuters.

However, WFP spokeswoman Claire Nevill said the agency is awaiting approval from the Ethiopian government. “Without these permits, the delivery of life-saving humanitarian supplies, including food, nutrition and medical supplies, must be suspended,” she said.

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This story was published from a wire agency feed with no changes to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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