1.6m children in Kenya risk getting preventable diseases

Polio vaccine

A child receiving a polio vaccine. A new vaccine that has the potential to shield against outbreaks caused by a mutated polio strain will only be given under special conditions.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

About 1.6 million children in Kenya risk getting preventable diseases such as polio, measles, pneumonia and tuberculosis after missing out on mandatory routine immunisation by the Health ministry for children below the age of five.

The Health ministry has launched a campaign to fill the vaccination gap and ensure most Kenyan children are protected even from other diseases such as cancer by administering the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to girls.

While launching the campaign, Health Director General Patrick Amoth said the ministry would work with county governments and community health volunteers to ensure unvaccinated children are sought and immunised.

“We have provided all vaccines in all immunising facilities and we urge parents and guardians to ensure that their children complete the immunisation schedule, including the second dose of measles rubella given at 18 months,” said Dr Amoth.

So far, only 80 per cent of children under the age of five adhere to routine immunisation programmes.

The 100-day campaign started on November 1 and will end on February 10, 2022.

While data from the Health ministry shows that every year, about 300,000 children aged one and below miss out on the essential routine immunisation programmes, those living in arid and semi-arid areas (Asal) are the worst affected.

“Children from the Asal counties have the highest burden of inaccessibility to vaccines because of challenges like long distances and social behaviours. We will work with community health volunteers to ensure that the immunisation services are brought closer to their homes,” said Dr Amoth.

HPV vaccination reaching girls aged between 10 and 14 years to provide protection against cervical cancer dropped to 30 per cent, yet the government’s target is 70 per cent.

“HPV vaccination was negatively affected by the Covid-19 pandemic because most schools had to be closed and the reach dropped from 57 per cent to the current 30 per cent. We want to take advantage of the school re-opening to vaccinate the 700,000 school going children,” he said.

Only 50 per cent of Kenyan children have been vaccinated against measles and rubella. Other diseases that will be targeted for the vaccination campaign in children are; polio, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Dr Lucy Mecca, vaccine quality and supply manager at the National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme Kenya said that vaccination is the most cost-effective public health intervention that should be adhered to.

“We have seen it used globally to reduce illness and death from vaccine preventable diseases,” she said.

She noted that the government had introduced 10 new vaccines in the past 10 years that are available for free to the public.

Makueni, Kiambu and Kirinyanga have the highest adherence to vaccination routines, while Wajir, West Pokot and Tana River are at the bottom.

Dr Mecca told the Nation yesterday that the immunisation campaign report is yet to be released and she is hopeful that the exercise will help in reaching the targeted children.

The World Health Organisation indicates that there are about 20 life-threatening diseases that can be prevented through routine immunisation in children and they in turn prevent two to three million deaths every year.