WHO: WHO urges scaled-up vaccination in Ebola-affected countries

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the scaling up of routine immunisation activities to counter a growing risk of outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and other vaccine-preventable diseases in countries affected by Ebola.

“We are calling for the intensification of routine immunisation services in all areas, and for mass measles vaccination campaigns in areas that are free of Ebola transmission,” a WHO statement obtained by PANA here Friday quoted Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals at the global health body, as saying.

The Ebola outbreak, which has infected some 24,000 people and killed over 10,000 of them, has also reduced vaccination coverage in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as health facilities and staff focus on halting the outbreak.

“Any disruption of immunisation services, even for short periods, will result in an increase in the number of susceptible individuals, and will increase the likelihood of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks,” according to a WHO note sent to countries this week.

The new Guidance for Immunisation Programmes in the African Region in the Context of Ebola to help countries maintain or restart immunisation services includes infection control precautions for health workers. The document notes that for countries not affected by Ebola, routine immunisation and surveillance “should continue using the normal safe injection and waste disposal practices.”

Mass vaccination campaigns for measles in areas that are free of Ebola transmission should be implemented to reduce the risk of significant measles outbreaks, the guidance notes.

During the Ebola outbreak, people infected with malaria have been unable to get treatment, either because they have been too afraid to seek help at health centres or because such facilities have been closed.

To rapidly reduce the malaria burden and the number of febrile people with malaria presenting at Ebola evaluation facilities, WHO recommended mass drug administration (MDA) of anti-malarial medicines to all eligible people in areas heavily affected by Ebola.

MDA campaigns with first line anti-malaria drugs were carried out in Sierra Leone and Liberia from October 2014 to January 2015, reaching an estimated 3 million people through door-to-door distribution, reducing malaria and the risk of Ebola transmission to malaria patients.

“This focus on vaccinations and malaria is part of WHO’s efforts to support countries in early recovery, including infection prevention and control in non-Ebola health care settings, strengthening of the health workforce, disease surveillance, and safe essential health services," said Dr Edward Kelley, Director of Service Delivery and Safety at WHO.

Liberia has done 2 rounds of immunisation against several diseases, and Guinea carried out similar activities in Ebola-free provinces in October and November 2014.

For its part, Sierra Leone has put in place infection prevention precautions, and supported health facilities to scale up their routine service delivery.

Liberia and Guinea have done measles outbreak response vaccination activities targeting under- five children in outbreak districts, and Guinea is putting together an outbreak response plan targeting 10 additional districts.

Before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year, and the disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally; some 145 700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5.  
-0- PANA SEG 20March2015

20 march 2015 12:04:51

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