YAOUNDE, Cameroon

There is a risk of major measles outbreaks as several African nations have delayed vaccination drives, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The WHO said 15 African countries delayed measles immunization drives in 2020 to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN health agency said seven countries have completed campaigns but eight remain outstanding, posing a risk of major outbreaks.

“Recent outbreaks of measles, but also yellow fever, cholera, and meningitis all point to worrying gaps in immunization coverage and surveillance in Africa. As we fight COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone dangerously exposed to preventable diseases,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.

She urged African nations to double down on essential health services, including life-saving vaccination campaigns.

“Integrated action is needed to increase and expand access to immunization as part of primary health care,” she said “We must also engage more with community leaders and influencers to ensure that everyone understands the life-saving, transformative promise of vaccines.”

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It remains a significant cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

While vaccination has drastically reduced measles deaths — a 73% drop between 2000-2018 worldwide — measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia.

More than 140,000 people died from measles in 2018, with more than 95% occurring in countries with low per-capita income and weak health infrastructure, according to the WHO.

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