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The panic triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of vaccination campaigns against measles, yellow fever, and polio. And with the desertion of vaccination centers, there are fears of a resurgence of other diseases such as Polio, measles, and dengue fever. Some groups are sounding the alarm at the unprecedented health crisis looming over poor countries.
“The choice between plague and cholera,” is how Seth Barkley, head of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), describes the dilemma the organization faces: On 24 March, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) recommended stopping all polio immunization campaigns in Africa to prevent the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus. It recognizes that this will lead to an increase in the number of paralyzed children in countries where otherwise polio has already been eradicated. Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the virus is still present, could be the first victims.
Yellow fever, diphtheria, and measles: all vaccination campaigns canceled
And unfortunately, polio is not the only thing that’s involved. On 26 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a “temporary halt” to vaccination against all other diseases, including yellow fever, diphtheria, and measles. The WHO believes that the social distance required to contain COVID-19 is incompatible with the distribution of the vaccine in the villages. Some 13.5 million children are already at risk since they stopped getting vaccinations for polio, measles, cholera, and meningitis.
Dengue fever epidemic in Latin America
A terrible dengue fever epidemic is feared in Latin America. The region has already set a sad record of more than 3.14 million cases in 2019, a 30 percent increase over 2015, and since the beginning of the year, more than 661,000 cases have been identified in South America, including 1,820 severe cases. Rapid access to healthcare generally reduces the mortality rate to less than 1%, but overloading the healthcare system with COVID-19 could lead to an explosive increase in deaths. The two diseases have similar symptoms (fever, headache, aches, and pains.
The worst measles epidemic since the invention of the vaccine
Measles vaccination campaigns have already been postponed in 24 countries, and other campaigns planned for the end of 2020 in 13 countries risk not being carried out, warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 117 million children could be left without a vaccine, the group warned. The measles epidemic is particularly rampant this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since the beginning of 2019, there have been 341,000 cases and 6,400 deaths, more than three times as many as the Ebola cases in the same period. And the disease, which is ten times more contagious than COVID-19, is spreading like wildfire, and according to WHO experts, “the epidemic could be “the worst ever recorded in a country since the invention of the vaccine in 1963,” reports the journal Nature.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is not the only country suffering from the latest epidemic. in 2018 more than 10 million people were infected worldwide leading to 140,000 deaths, an increase of 58% compared to 2016. This resumption is largely due to aversion to vaccination in rich countries, but also to the lack of health systems in developing countries. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable. The measles mortality rate is typically 3-6% (already almost 10 times higher than Covid-19) but can reach 30% in some areas due to malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency. Worse still, recently it was discovered that measles “destroy the immune system”, which opens the door to other diseases such as COVID-19.
Vaccine shortages due to borders closures
However, the WHO recommends continuing vaccination in health centers and hospitals. However, as is the case in the USA, it has been pointed out that people in Africa are afraid to go to these centers for fear of contracting the coronavirus. Another problem is the possibility of a vaccine shortage due to border closure. There is no vaccine against COVID-19 yet, but all these diseases are easily prevented. Among the global panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic, is the scale of the threat to vulnerable populations measured?
During the current panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic have we not lost sight of the damage that this could do to populations at risk?