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World Immunisation Week which began on Friday 24th April and concludes Thursday 30th April, showcases the growing importance of awareness and the effective ways to keep children safe from preventable disease.

UNICEF Australia, the humanitarian fund organisation that champions children’s health and wellbeing, along with the Department of Health have urged parents to not forget about their child’s immunisation programs during this time of crisis.Though Australia has a generally high level of immunised children, experts note it is essential that we do not fall behind in vaccination upkeep.

24 countries around the globe including Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine have paused child vaccination programs in the wake of COVID 19, leaving over 117 million children susceptible to deadly and preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus and rubella.

Despite Australia not being one of these countries, we still have a low level of children who are fully immunised at the age of two years old.

Felicity Wever, Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia says any decline in immunisation rates, particularly for this age group, would be cause for concern.  We should be making sure children are not missing out for good, putting them at unnecessary risk of preventable disease.

“The government sets out the immunisation schedule for children, but some children may be missing out on immunisation due to social distancing or fear of COVID-19.

“Immunisations are an essential part of regular health checks, so we’re urging parents to continue to make those appointments during this time.

Felicity Wever, Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia

“UNICEF is also ensuring there is a continuity of ongoing health services for children in the wider Asia Pacific region, including immunisations, even in the midst of this pandemic.,” says Ms Wever.

Similar trends of immunisation postponement are developing in Asia Pacific regions including Vietnam and the Philippines, which is particularly dangerous as experienced during a recent secondary outbreak of  measles in Samoa,.

Due to postponement of supplementary programs, pockets of children are left un-immunised and vulnerable. In such vulnerable countries wherein health systems are often of lower standard, prevention is truly the best treatment and these childhood diseases combined with coronavirus result in communities fighting against a multi-pronged enemy.

“It’s not that long ago I that we saw a measles outbreak in Samoa. 70 lives lost and 61 children under five years old died as a result of that.” says Ms Wever.

“Outbreaks are  a very real risk when you have declined coverage of immunisation.”

“Having worked with UNICEF for a number of years now in places where it is such a precious gift for parents to be able to immunise their children because they have much higher rates of mortality under five years old;  it’s a luxury in countries with very high levels of coverage like Australia for parents to be able to make their own choices.”

Dr. Katherine O’Brien, Director of the Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals Programme at the World Health Organisation implores people to continue vaccinations wherever possible.

“WHO is working constantly with partners and scientists to accelerate vaccine development for COVID-19, but we must also ensure people are protected against those diseases for which vaccines already exist,” says Dr. O’Brien.

“The message from this guidance is clear. Countries should take what steps they can to sustain immunisation programmes and prevent unnecessary loss of life.”

World Immunisation Week is primarily about raising awareness. Children still die of completely preventable diseases, a fact that should not be the case in 2020, especially when first-hand evidence of the lethality unchecked disease results in can be seen globally.

Parents have the right and duty to protect their children. Many deadly childhood diseases have been all but eradicated, the number steadily declining.

This can only continue if awareness increases, everyone contributes and does their part to support childhood health via immunisation.

Last week talk show host Ellen DeGeneres found herself in hot water after describing her time in quarantine as akin to being in jail. The comments have been labelled as insensitive as DeGeneres has a net worth of $490 million and is currently isolating in a mansion worth $27 million.

Although not many of us are lucky enough to be isolating in a million-dollar home like DeGeneres, a large portion of Australians have access to housing, internet access, electricity and food. However 3 million Australians, (13.2 per cent of the population), live below the poverty line.

Australia’s 13.2 per cent is a comparatively low poverty rate when compared to developing nations, such as the African country of Sudan that has a 47 per cent poverty rate, and it’s neighbouring country South Sudan, which sits at a poverty percentage of 82.3 per cent.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc worldwide, with much of the Western world in some level of lockdown, facing months of isolation in their homes and risking hefty fines for leaving the house unnecessarily.

These strict isolation measures have been brought in to stop the spread of the virus and ‘flatten the curve’, a now well-known term in the Western world for slowing the rate of infection.

Italy, one of the worst hit countries in the world, has reached a death toll of 20,000 people after their infection rate rose at an unprecedented rate, leaving thousands of their citizens to perish and pushing their health system beyond breaking point.

As with many world-wide disasters, developed and Western nations monopolise the media and reporting, whilst it is often less developed countries (LDC) that suffer beyond repair.

A developing nation is a country that has a low or middle economy with the UN classifying countries into three broad categories, ‘developed economies, economies in transition and developing economies’, further stating that to be listed as a LDC that the ‘basic criteria for inclusion require that certain thresholds be met with regard to per capita GNI, a human assets index and an economic vulnerability index’.

As the COVID-19 crisis worsens in developed nations, the situation in LDC’s is threatening to back-pedal the work these countries have made in the last two decades and collapse their economies, with estimates that income losses may exceed $220 billion.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stated in a recent report that without help from the international community, many countries could lose an entire generation to the virus; ‘an entire generation lost, if not in lives then in rights, opportunities and dignity’, states Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UNDP.

One of the major identifiers of a LDC and/or a developing country is lack of hygiene measures and sanitation, which is exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis. The UNDP in association with WHO is working to provide aid to countries at high risk, with both appealing for help from the international community.

The situation is made even more dire in these LDC communities as there is minimal testing for the virus and a lack of ventilators, combined with populations that are already struggling, it is the formula for a perfect storm.

The testing situation is slowly improving as emergency aids and Health ministries focus on stopping the spike in demand for testing kits, sourcing more kits and training staff in affected areas.

WHO confirmed last week that Africa has over 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and 500 deaths, with many of the affected countries trade-dependent, leaving their economies at breaking point.

The messenger app WhatsApp announced in March that it will work in conjunction with WHO (World Health Organisation) and UNDP to find credible information on the COVID-19 and distribute this to countries in need, including South Africa and Indonesia.

The UNDP, WHO and the World Food Programme (WFP) continue to work together to aid the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Africa. Zimbabwe, situated in the south of Africa has a poverty percentage of 70 per cent and was struggling through a famine before the outbreak of COVID-19.

The WFP is now attempting to raise $130 million to help Zimbabwe from slipping further into poverty, along with efforts across a further 82 countries, helping approximately 87 million people through the outbreak and beyond.

We can get through COVID-19 together, as a global community, share this article and the resources in it, spread awareness, donate if you can. It is up to our leaders and us to act as a global community and help those in need, they need to hear our voices.

If you would like to donate or find out more about the COVID-19 response in developing nations, resources are linked below.

Donate:

https://www.wfp.org/support-us

https://www.unicef.org.au/donate/donate-once?appeal-gid=486e25ac-d0c8-4bc1-b798-27b7abb1626f

Further information (or any of the links in article):

https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114205/download/?_ga=2.98097631.1751240341.1586847305-288421665.1586847305