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Deadly diseases such as 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, doctors and regional health officials say.
The percentage of children in Tigray receiving routine vaccinations has fallen below 10% this year, data from the Tigray Health Bureau shows, undoing years of government efforts to boost immunity.zaction rates.
“The hopes of children in the region to grow up healthier and happier were snatched away 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, blamed the decline in vaccination on supply shortages caused by what it called a “siege” of Tigray by Ethiopian federal forces, power outages that have disrupted cold chains vaccinations and the inability of people in rural areas to get there. Health institutions.
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 UN commission of human rights experts said on Monday. .
The experts said in a report that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the 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 the prime minister’s spokesman Billene Seyoum did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the UN report.
The government has repeatedly denied blocking aid and says the Tigray Popular Liberation Front (TPLF), the party’s leading regional government, is responsible for the conflict, which has killed thousands of civilians.
Health Minister Lia Tadesse said vaccines had been provided to Tigray this year and more were ready to be delivered once conditions permitted.
In its letter, the Tigray Health Bureau said that the percentage of children who received the full three doses of the pentavalent vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) was reduced from 99.3% in 2020 to 36% in 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 said 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 began 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 in Ethiopia, but they don’t reach Tigrayan children,” said Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at Ayder Referral Hospital, who said she has treated children for measles and whooping cough.
Gavi, which buys and distributes vaccines for developing countries, said it had 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 that 860,000 doses of measles vaccines were delivered in Tigray last December and additional doses were delivered on April 2.
Another planned delivery is on hold on instructions from the UN World Food Programme, which coordinates humanitarian deliveries in Tigray, Lia said in a statement to Reuters.
However, WFP spokeswoman Claire Nevill said the agency was awaiting clearances from the Ethiopian government.
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“In the absence of these authorizations, the delivery of life-saving humanitarian supplies, including food, nutrition and medical items, will have to be suspended,” he said.