KENYA—The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which provides health services in Kakuma refugee camp, has announced the depletion of its buffer stocks for BCG, Oral Polio Vaccine, and Rotavirus vaccines.

This development comes just days after the Ministry of Health’s State Department for Medical Services assured the public of urgent steps being taken to ensure eligible children do not miss vaccinations .

According to the IRC, current vaccine stocks will last for only one month, leaving children unprotected. A similar crisis looms in Hagadera at Dadaab refugee camp, where only 60 doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine remain.

The IRC now joins the Council of Governors, the Health NGO Network (HENNET), and other health Civil Society Organizations in calling on the government to take urgent action to resolve this shortage.

This shortage risks eroding the gains made in expanding immunization access and could lead to preventable disease outbreaks, causing lifelong disabilities or death among children.

Immediate and coordinated efforts are needed to safeguard the health and future of all children in Kenya, particularly those in remote and humanitarian settings.

Communities along Kenya’s borders, especially those in Turkana and Garissa counties, are at high risk due to their continuous cross-border movement and nomadic lifestyle.

 These areas have experienced outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like polio and measles in the past.

The ongoing shortage of vaccines puts the lives of children in hard-to-reach areas at risk and threatens an outbreak throughout the entire country, necessitating that every child be protected from life-threatening diseases.

 Additionally, the disruption of immunization services increases the vulnerability of children to vaccine-preventable diseases, making this shortage a humanitarian crisis.

On June 22, 2023, a suspected case of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) was detected in Garissa County.

By August 31, 2023, eight cases were confirmed, all originating from the expansive Dadaab refugee camp. Similarly, an ongoing measles outbreak in Turkana County has seen 1,444 cases, with 87 percent of these in Turkana West Sub County, home to the Kakuma refugee camp.

In 2023, through the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization, the IRC, in collaboration with the County Ministries of Health in Turkana and Garissa Counties, administered 146,097 vaccinations to 8,802 children from both the refugee and host communities.

Polio Supplemental Immunization Activities (SIA) in Garissa and Lamu counties reached 4,177 children through the Core Group Partners Project (CGPP), supporting county health departments and directly vaccinating 85,479 children in Hagadera refugee camp with the Novel Oral Polio type II vaccine.

With Kenya grappling with a severe shortage of vaccines for Vaccine Preventable Childhood Diseases (VPDs), the IRC is deeply concerned about the grave implications for children in humanitarian and hard-to-reach areas.

This shortage, in the midst of cross-border movement, not only threatens the health of vulnerable children but also risks undoing significant health advances in the country.

The nomadic lifestyle and pastoral nature of the communities along the borders of Kenya in Turkana and Garissa Counties pose a major risk factor for frequent infectious disease outbreaks.

The cross-border health facilities often lack human resources and equipment for cold chain management.

Those that are equipped are underutilized as the population keeps moving in search of pastures.

The refugee population is particularly susceptible to such outbreaks due to the continuous arrival of new refugees and asylum seekers from across the border.

Severe congestion with suboptimal water and sanitation amenities in the camps easily propagates the spread and transmission of communicable diseases like polio and measles.

The probability of finding a child with zero-dose immunization status is high in these populations. For instance, among those listed in the measles outbreak in Turkana County, 24.1 percent have zero-dose status, and 19.6 percent have unknown immunization status.

Other risk factors predisposing these communities to infectious diseases include porous borders that allow free movement of refugees in and out, with almost no proper disease surveillance systems in place at points of entry, especially along the Somali border.

Improved cross-border coordination mechanisms between Kenya and its neighbors are crucial to strengthening active disease surveillance and routine immunization at points of entry. 

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