Epidemic of deadly childhood diseases rises in Ethiopia’s Tigray, war blamed for slowing vaccinations

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Fatal diseases as measles, tetanus and whooping cough are on the rise in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after vaccination rates plummeted during the civil war that erupted nearly two years ago, according to doctors and regional health officials .

The percentage of children in Tigray receiving routine vaccines has fallen below 10% this year, according to data from the Tigray Health Bureau, undoing years of government efforts to boost the immune systemzrats

“The region’s children’s hopes of growing up healthier and happier were dashed in the blink of an eye,” the office said in a letter this month to the global vaccine alliance Gavi.

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The letter, seen by Reuters, attributes the drop in vaccination to supply shortages caused by what it calls a ‘siege’ of Tigray by Ethiopian federal forces, power outages that disrupted vaccine cold chains and the inability of rural residents to reach health facilities.

A ceasefire between March and late August between Tigrayan and federal forces allowed a trickle of medical aid, but humanitarian access has been suspended since fighting resumed, a A commission human rights experts said on Monday.

Experts said in a report that they have reasonable grounds to believe that denial of access to health care and other assistance by federal authorities amounts to a crime against humanity.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Col. Getnet Adane and Prime Minister’s spokesman Billene Seyoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the UN report.

A child infected with whooping cough cries in his crib in Ethiopia on September 29.  On February 9, 2022, as deadly childhood diseases ravage Ethiopia's Tigray region.

A child infected with whooping cough cries in his crib in Ethiopia on September 29. On February 9, 2022, as deadly childhood diseases ravage Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
(REUTERS/Stringer)

The government has repeatedly denied blocking aid and says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party leading the regional government, is responsible for the conflict, which has killed thousands of civilians.

Measles outbreaks

Health Minister Lia Tadesse said vaccines had been supplied to Tigray this year and more were ready for delivery once conditions allowed.

In its letter, the Tigray Health Bureau stated that the percentage of children receiving the full three doses of the pentavalent vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b ( Hib) fell from 99.3% in 2020 to 36% in 2020. 2021 and 7% this year.

The rate in Ethiopia was 65% in 2021, according to data from the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

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The letter says the percentages of children vaccinated against tuberculosis and measles have also dropped from over 90% in 2020 to less than 10% this year.

He said there had been measles outbreaks in 10 of the region’s 35 districts since the start of the war and 25 cases of neonatal tetanus this year, compared to just two in each of the previous three years.

“Vaccines are given free of charge all over Ethiopia, but they are not reaching children in Tigray,” said Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital, who he says has treated children for measles and measles. whooping cough.

Gavi, which buys and distributes vaccines for developing countries, said it provided measles and COVID-19 vaccines during the ceasefire, but some activities had been suspended since fighting resumed.

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Ethiopian Health Minister Lia said 860,000 doses of measles vaccines were delivered to Tigray last December and additional doses were delivered on April 2.

Another planned delivery is on hold at the instruction of the United Nations World Food Programme, which coordinates humanitarian deliveries to Tigray, Lia said in a statement to Reuters.

WFP spokeswoman Claire Nevill, however, said the agency was awaiting clearance from the Ethiopian government.

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“In the absence of these clearances, the delivery of vital humanitarian supplies, including food, nutrition and medical items, will have to be suspended,” she said.