Worryingly low immunisation rates risk further deaths as Ebola recedes
In Sierra Leone a little girl waits to be immunised. Credit: Gavi/Doune Porter.
Geneva, 7 July 2015 – Plans to rebuild immunisation services wrecked by the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will form the first stage of Gavi’s Ebola investment support and will ensure that hundreds of thousands of children who either missed out or are at risk of missing out will now receive their vaccinations. Additionally, as part of a coordinated approach to ensure the three countries are stronger and more resilient to infectious disease, Gavi is doubling its long-term support for their health systems through to 2020.
One of the big issues affecting immunisation has been trust in health services. Rumours circulating in the region have falsely claimed that childhood vaccines, such as those protecting against measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea, could be linked to Ebola. This has dealt a severe blow to immunisation coverage, with parents refusing to allow their children to be immunised against common but potentially-fatal conditions, leaving hundreds of thousands of children at risk.
Additionally, hundreds of health workers in the three countries were among the 10,000 people who lost their lives to Ebola during the crisis and many more were forced to abandon their posts as the epidemic took hold. As the three countries begin their return to normality there is now a severe shortage of trained health workers to administer vaccines.
Gavi support will include provision for civil society organisations to work with communities to hold meetings, briefing village chiefs and religious leaders on the importance of immunising children. It will also ensure that there are enough trained health workers to provide the vaccines to the children.
“As the initial Ebola epidemic recedes, we now face a race against time to prevent outbreaks of other dangerous diseases, by ensuring that children receive the vaccines they need to protect them,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Rebuilding trust amongst parents and carers is critical, as is ensuring that they are provided with the services they need to protect their children.”
The initial package of US$ 12.5 million will support:
- Work to trace children who missed out on immunisation in Sierra Leone and ensure they are reached through catch-up programmes. A measles vaccination campaign targeting more than 1.3 million children was already undertaken in June with support from Gavi and the UK’s Department for International Development.
- A nationwide drive to recruit new vaccinators and train them alongside those returning to their posts in Liberia, which lost around 200 health workers to Ebola. This will enable clinics across the country to reopen their immunisation programmes.
- A measles immunisation campaign targeting 750,000 will take place in Guinea in October. The vaccines will be stored in upgraded cold storage facilities, including solar fridges, which will be installed across all districts.
According to the World Health Organization, to date approximately 600,000 children missed out on routine immunisation services in the three countries. Modelling by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on the long-term impact of Ebola on routine immunisation suggested that as many as one million children could miss out on measles vaccination as a result of the knock-on impact of Ebola.
In December 2014, the Gavi Board approved a package of support that would see the Vaccine Alliance play a leading role in the introduction of an Ebola vaccine, when available, and to help countries rebuild their immunisation systems.
The US$ 12.5 million of support announced today is part of a projected US$ 80 million to be invested in supporting the recovery and rebuilding of immunisation programmes in the three worst-affected countries.
Vaccine Alliance experts began working with health officials in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone on the plans as soon as the Ebola caseload began to decline significantly, meaning the countries could move from emergency response to recovery. Additionally, since the beginning of 2015, technical partners, UNICEF and WHO, have supported the countries to undertake immunisation campaigns to tackle outbreaks of childhood diseases, such as measles and meningitis.