Mumbai: Over 80 million infants in at least 68 countries will be at risk of contracting diseases such as measles, polio and diphtheria as vaccination services have been disrupted because of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the public-private partnership Gavi analysed data from 129 countries and found that vaccination campaigns for measles have been suspended in 27 countries and those for polio in 38 countries.

Reasons include need to maintain physical distancing, overwhelmed health systems, redeployment of healthcare workers to treat COVID-19 and gaps in supply of vaccines.

“Disruption to immunization programmes from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.

Six of India’s eight most socioeconomically backward states have discontinued immunisation services, IndiaSpend reported in April 2020.

“The consequences for children can be deadly,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, “We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases.”

As of January 2020, India’s full immunisation coverage was at 92.2%, up from 88.7% in 2017-18. In 2018, deaths due to vaccine preventable diseases were 180 for diphtheria, 182 for Japanese encephalitis and 34 for measles.

To limit the adverse impacts of the suspension of immunisation services, countries should intensify their efforts to track unvaccinated children and provide vaccinations to the most vulnerable as soon as it becomes possible to do so, said Fore.

(Shreya Raman is a data analyst at IndiaSpend.)