The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have expressed “extreme concern” about severe shortages of critical vaccines in Libya that threaten the health of children.
In a joint statement issued on Thursday, UNICEF and WHO noted that over the past seven months, “unprecedented vaccine shortages” in the country had disrupted children’s immunization schedules, putting them at risk of illness and death.
The statement pointed out that there had been “an alarming decline” in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines worldwide.
It said in Libya, this decline is a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of international borders, movement restrictions and delays in vaccine procurement and distribution.
The two UN agencies pointed out that many vaccination centres have been forced to close due to the lack of personal protective equipment for health workers.
According to the press release, a recent assessment of 200 of the 700 vaccination sites in Libya, carried out by the National Centre for Disease Control, with the support of UNICEF and WHO, showed that they had stock-outs of BCG vaccine and extremely limited quantities of hexavalent vaccine.
The BCG vaccine protects children against tuberculosis (TB), the world’s leading infectious killer, while the hexavalent vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, haemophilus B and hepatitis B.
The statement stated that the evaluation also showed that the vaccines against polio and measles would be exhausted by the end of the year, and unless urgent measures were taken to replace them, the diseases they prevent were likely to spread rapidly, “with disastrous consequences”.
UNICEF and WHO urged national authorities to secure immediate funding to replenish the vaccine supply, stressing that vaccines are one of the most critical public health interventions in the world.
Immunization protects children against serious vaccine-preventable diseases and reduces child mortality, said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Libya.
She gave the assurance that WHO would spare no effort to improve immunization coverage of children across the country to ensure a healthy childhood and a prosperous future.
The statement stressed the importance of ensuring that the progress achieved through the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Libya was sustainable as the world considered multiple ways to curb the COVIDC-19 pandemic.
“It is essential that all immunization sites receive an immediate supply of all vaccines to ensure uninterrupted implementation of the immunization schedule based on national protocols,” added UNICEF Special Representative in Libya Abdelkader Moussi.