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Reversing a decline in immunisation rates in Uganda

As the World Health Organisation (WHO) publishes its latest health statistics, showing lower worldwide under-five mortality figures and higher child immunisation rates, Uganda is battling to reverse a decline in its immunisation coverage.

The newly released 2013 World Health Statistics report from the WHO reveals that the number of under-fives dying across the world fell from 12 million in 1990 to 7 million in 2011. Pneumonia is still the leading cause of death among children under the age of five, followed by preterm births among newborn babies.

The overall decline in the number of deaths can partly be attributed to better immunisation coverage. So, in 2011, over two-thirds of countries had achieved a measles immunisation coverage of over 90% among children aged 12-23 months and deaths from measles have decreased by over 70% between 2000 and 2011.
But while progress is generally being made, there is a worry that in some countries levels of immunisation are decreasing. In Uganda, for example, health experts estimate that around half of under-fives are currently going unimmunised or under-immunised against serious childhood diseases such as measles. 

The government recently announced plans to boost immunisation in Uganda [http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/about-our-charity/archive/2013/02/the-importance-of-immunisation-in-uganda] by introducing new vaccines for rotavirus, pneumonia and the human papillomavirus. However, the government has also acknowledged that there is a problem with lower immunisation coverage rates among existing vaccinations, with cases of common childhood diseases such as measles on the increase.

In a recent IRIN article, officials and health experts in Uganda have voiced their fears about the number of children going unimmunised and blamed widespread shortages of vaccines and insufficient funds for the problem. A Ministry of Health official admitted that the ministry was receiving reports from all districts about a lack of stocks for “all types” of child vaccines. However, he said that officials were “working around the clock” to solve the problem as a matter of urgency. But in the meantime, it’s a worry for health workers and clinics across the country, trying to prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases. Because as one spokesperson for the Parliamentary Forum on Immunisation neatly expressed, “you can’t [ask] mothers to move to health facilities three to four times and they don’t find vaccines”.

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