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Economy

Immunisation coverage falls to 15-year low on nurses strike

 

A five-month nurses’ strike last year cut the national immunisation coverage to a 15-year low of 63 per cent, exposing children below one year to diseases such as polio, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The Economic Survey 2018 shows the coverage last year dropped by six percentage points from 69 per cent in 2016 and 76 per cent in 2013.

The 63 per cent is the lowest coverage since 2005 when it stood at the same level, and share has been rising until 2012.

The nurses’ strike—which ran from June to November-- had brought health services to a halt in many parts of the country, with patients being sent away from some government-run hospitals.

“The health workers strike in 2017 had significant impact on access to immunisation, but between January and March this year we had recorded a recovery at 80 per cent,” said Collins Tabu, head of the National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme in Kenya.

Full immunisation refers to children below one year who have received one dose of BCG, another of measles and three doses each of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and pentavalent, pneumococcal vaccines.

The survey shows half of children below one year in eight counties did not receive the compulsory vaccination, up from one—Mandera that has since 2014 had the worst immunisation record among 47 devolved units.

Tana River, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Samburu, Narok, Trans Nzoia and West Pokot are the counties where more than half of one year-olds were not immunised.

“These are mostly arid and semi arid lands (Asal) counties that also experience system challenges in accessing the vaccines including poor documentation and supply chain challenges leading to occasional stock outs,” said Dr Tabu.

Of the eight counties, it is only Mandera that recorded a marginal increase of 0.2 per cent from the 25.2 recorded in 2016.

Narok had the highest drop in coverage from 70.6 per cent in 2016 to 46.5 per cent last year, followed by West Pokot at 15 percentage points, Trans Nzoia (15 percentage points) and Tana River (15 percentage points).

Nyamira recorded a drop of 22.3 per cent to 66 per cent from the 89.1 per cent coverage a year earlier.

In October, the Health ministry raised the alarm over the rising number of children missing compulsory vaccines due to the nurses’ strike.

The ministry then moved to launch a drive to vaccinate over 300,000 children and mothers in Asal counties who missed the vaccines for diseases including tetanus, BCG, measles and influenza.

Dr Tabu said the government has partnered with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation’s (GAVI) and Unicef in an outreach programme for the missed children in last year’s immunisation cycle.

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