Shortage of Vaccines Could Endanger over 250,000 Libyan Children

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On Thursday, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation said that they are extremely concerned over severe shortages of critical vaccines in Libya that threaten the health of the country’s children.

“Over the past 7 months, unprecedented vaccine shortages in the country have disrupted children’s immunization schedules and put them at risk of disease and death,” a joint report of UNICEF and WHO explained.

It added that there has been an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines, especially in Libya, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of international borders, movement restrictions, and delays in procuring and distributing vaccines.

The report noted that many vaccination centres have been forced to close due to shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers.

A recent assessment of 200 vaccine sites in Libya, carried out by the National Centre of Disease Control with the support of UNICEF and WHO, has showed that all sites had no more stocks of BCG vaccine and extremely limited quantities of hexavalent vaccine.

BCG vaccine protects children against tuberculosis (TB), the world’s top infectious killer. Hexavalent vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, haemophilus B and hepatitis B.

The assessment also showed that polio and measles vaccines were expected to run out by the end of the year. Unless urgent measures are taken to replace these vaccines, the diseases they prevent are likely to spread quickly, with dire consequences.

UNICEF and WHO have urged the national authorities to secure the immediate release of funds to replenish the country’s vaccine supply.

“Vaccines are one of the most critical public health interventions globally. Immunization protects children against serious vaccine-preventable diseases and reduces childhood mortality,” said Ms Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Libya. “WHO will spare no efforts to enhance immunization coverage for children across the country in order to ensure a healthy childhood and a prosperous future.”

“While the world is looking at the multiple avenues to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that the gains achieved through the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Libya are sustained.

It is essential that all the vaccination sites receive an immediate supply of all vaccines to ensure uninterrupted implementation of the immunization schedule based on the national protocols,” said UNICEF Special Representative in Libya, Abdul-Kadir Musse. “Vaccines are crucial, and no child is safe until every child is safe,” he warned.