Outbreak of deadly childhood diseases on the rise in Ethiopian Tigray, accused of slowing vaccinations

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Deadly diseases like measles, tetanus and whooping cough are on the rise in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after vaccination rates plummeted during the civil war that broke out nearly two years ago, regional doctors and health officials say.

The percentage of children in Tigray who receive routine vaccines has dropped below 10% this year, according to data from the Tigray Health Bureau, defeating years of government efforts to boost immunity.for instancenational rates.

“The hopes of the region’s children to grow up healthier and happier were stripped away in the blink of an eye,” the office said in a letter this month to the Gavi Global Vaccine Alliance.

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The letter, seen by Reuters, blamed the drop in vaccinations on supply shortages caused by what it called a “siege” of Tigray by Ethiopian federal forces, power outages that disrupted vaccine cold chains and the inability of people in rural areas to reach health facilities.

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

Experts said in a report that they have reasonable grounds to believe that denying access to health care and other aid by federal authorities constitutes a crime against humanity.

Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Colonel 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 9, 2022, as life-threatening childhood diseases tear apart Ethiopia's Tigray region.

A child infected with whooping cough cries in his crib in Ethiopia on September 9, 2022, as life-threatening childhood diseases tear apart Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
(REUTERS / Stringer)

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

Measles outbreaks

Health Minister Lia Tadesse said vaccines have been provided to Tigray this year and others will be ready to be delivered once conditions allow.

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

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

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The letter states that the percentages of children vaccinated against tuberculosis and measles have also plummeted from more than 90% in 2020 to less than 10% this year.

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

“Vaccines are given free throughout Ethiopia, but they don’t reach Tigrinya children,” said Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital, who has treated children for measles and 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 have 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 suspended on instruction from the United Nations World Food Program, which coordinates humanitarian deliveries in Tigray, Lia said in a statement to Reuters.

WFP spokesperson Claire Nevill, however, said the agency is awaiting clearance from the Ethiopian government.

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