Wednesday, June 19, 2024
NewsVaccine, medicine shortages pave way for epidemics in 10 regional states

Vaccine, medicine shortages pave way for epidemics in 10 regional states

More than 1,000 dead from measles, cholera, malaria in nine months

A shortage of vaccines and medicines has hampered efforts to control measles and cholera epidemics tearing through parts of the country, pushing the government to request support from neighboring countries as global supply shrinks.

Global vaccine supply chains have dried up in recent months, leaving the government as well as health organizations operating in Ethiopia with little in the way of options in treating a mounting caseload. The situation has prompted officials to seek vaccine doses from neighboring countries including Kenya, sources disclosed to The Reporter.

A performance report presented to Parliament by Mekdes Daba (MD), newly-appointed minister of Health, on May 9, 2024, indicates an alarming prevalence of measles, cholera, and malaria epidemics in the country. However, officials from the Ministry glossed over questions from the standing committee for Health, Social Development, Culture, and Sport Affairs about the lack of vaccines.

The Ministry’s nine-month performance report reveals that 549 mothers and 5,716 infants spread across the country have lost their lives to disease over the period. Deaths are also attributed to a lack of maternal services, while maternal deaths in South West Ethiopia are partly due to insufficient blood supply in health centers.

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Alarming fatalities have also been registered in Tigray, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Central Ethiopia, according to the report.

MPs urged for a swift response to the crisis.

The Reporter’s efforts to garner a response from the Ministry as well as the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) went unanswered. An EPHI official disclosed the information is off limits due to national interest and its sensitive nature.

Sources disclosed to The Reporter that over 3,000 measles cases have been registered in a single woreda in Oromia, but none of the afflicted have been able to obtain a vaccination. Case numbers across regional states are climbing, but vaccine stocks are running dry.

Efforts to secure vaccine doses from international suppliers, through the government as well as health organizations, are not bearing fruit, according to the sources.

Over the past nine months alone, more than 27,300 people have contracted cholera with 366 of them succumbing to the water-borne disease, according to the Ministry’s report. Over 43,400 people are infected with measles, of which 321 people have died so far. An additional 2.7 million people are thought to be affected by malaria, with the tropical disease claiming at least 349 lives over the reporting period.

The various epidemics are spread across 10 regional states and one city administration.

The primary factor preventing timely delivery facility visits by mothers is distance from health facilities, according to Health officials. They indicated that areas with limited access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities experience the highest death rates during epidemics.

Mesay Hailu, director-general of EPHI, who was also present during the performance review, underscored the importance of regional coordination efforts in preventing the spread of disease. He implied that without coordination, the situation can get much worse.

Mahatme Haile (MD), a member of the standing committee, called for efforts to bolster healthcare in the country’s newly-established regions, citing that the challenges surpass existing healthcare capacities.

Hospitals like Mizan Aman and Tepi General are struggling amidst the crisis, operating under strenuous conditions.

Ayele Tesheme (MD), a state minister of Health, addressed concerns raised by the standing committee regarding the deficient health infrastructure in Siz Primary, Tepi General Hospital, and Cook Health Checkpoint in Southwest Ethiopia, and outlined ongoing efforts to complete the construction of stalled health facilities.

He revealed that two-thirds of the country’s health facilities have access to water, while 76 percent have access to electricity.

Abdulqadir Gelgelo (MD), director-general of the Drug Supply Service, pointed out a 73.5 percent availability of life-saving and basic medicines, pledging to bridge the gap between demand and supply.

Highlighting the financial strain, the Director-General disclosed a staggering USD 183 million requirement for pharma imports, with only USD 15 million allocated between September and January.

He underscored the necessity of purchasing institutional medicine on credit but lamented the resulting difficulty in meeting demand. Delays in depositing community health insurance contributions into banks were acknowledged, prompting the Deputy Director-General of the Health Insurance Service, Yamrot Andualem, to clarify the service’s role in collection, primarily managed by regional administrations.

Workesmu Mamo, chair of the standing committee, commended the Ministry’s cooperation with respondent institutions, stressing the need for enhanced hospital capacity and addressing the alarming rise in maternal and infant mortality rates compared to the previous year.

The Ministry also acknowledged the absence of data from Tigray, attributing it to communication infrastructure damaged during the two-year war.

State Minister of Health, Dereje Duguma (MD), expressed concerns over the report’s absence, highlighting its impact on future activities. He said that efforts are underway to rectify the situation, with plans to include performance data from pre-2016 in an upcoming report.

Dereje detailed initiatives to support health institutions, citing the distribution of over 400 computers.

However, challenges persist due to internet limitations, particularly in conflict-affected areas like the Amhara region, hindering timely reporting and subsequent support from both the Ministry and partner organizations.

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