Forgotten killers amid the COVID-19 onslaught
More than a year ago, even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the alarm was raised with a study by leading global institutions highlighting a decline in routine vaccinations of children. It warned that the situation could worsen during the outbreak due to disruption caused by lockdowns, as well as a creaking healthcare infrastructure.
The report, by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control, said that measles cases surged globally in 2019, reaching their highest levels in 23 years. The story was no better with other preventable diseases, such as polio and diphtheria.
A year later, a report by the medical journal The Lancet confirmed that the warnings had fallen on deaf ears, with the leaders of most countries failing to take steps to boost routine vaccination and the world appearing to crumble in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) onslaught.
In its report, The Lancet said that routine immunization services have taken a back seat and governments are not yet ready to normalize the process. It is crucial, even critical, that governments ensure the battle against the most common and most potent preventable childhood diseases is not lost, even as the world struggles against coronavirus.
More worrying still, The Lancet, UNICEF and the WHO all warn that disruption to routine vaccinations is far from over, and that millions of children, primarily in the world’s poorest regions of sub-Saharan Africa as well
Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group,
a global platform based in Europe and India, which encompasses publishing,
communication, and consultation services. as South Asia, will pay a heavy price for the stalling of progress.
Most of the children who have missed routine vaccinations in India and elsewhere are from the poorer sections of society. Missed doses at any time can be highly risky for the physical as well as financial well-being of the entire family or even communities.
But coming as they do in the midst of the pandemic, the impact could be magnified.
So, governments and philanthropic organizations must work in the worst-affected countries to ramp up or resume routine vaccinations in an effort to meet existing targets and also make up for the shortfalls of the past two years.
This is not only for the sake of poorer people in these countries — national leaders need to realize that adequately vaccinating children will bring important benefits for their governments as well. Any outbreak of these illnesses can only add to the pressure on the already fragile healthcare infrastructures that have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.
The developed countries of the world should also join in this effort, even if they appear to be much better off than their poorer counterparts. Governments everywhere are unlikely to forget anytime soon that communicable diseases have a way of spreading rapidly and out of control, even before anyone remarks on them.
Moreover, some diseases, such as measles, are nowhere near being eradicated, even in the most developed parts of the world.
The phrase “No one is safe until everyone is safe” may have been used a lot lately, but this is the lesson that global leaders need to learn and learn now.