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How striking nurses exposed children to diseases

Health & Science
 Child getting polio vaccine.

Child vaccination dropped by almost 60 per cent in public hospitals during last year’s 150-day nurses’ strike.

Data from 18 referral county hospitals shows many children missed or delayed getting life-saving jabs during the strike period.

The data, published last week, coincided with a 21-day strike notice issued by the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN). The nurses are expected to down tools on December 10.

Most affected by last year’s strike were Nyandarua with a vaccination drop of 93 per cent, Kirinyaga 88.6 per cent, Nairobi 87.9 per cent and Baringo 80.1 per cent.

Only Makueni County recorded an increase in child vaccinations during the strike period in public facilities.

Some counties which employed part-time workers, deployed interns or re-allocated nursing work recorded lower missed vaccinations. The data gleaned from the Kenya Health Information System shows there was a decline of 56.9 per cent in child vaccination in public hospitals.

An analysis of the data published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved also shows a 251.6 per cent increase of vaccinations in faith-based health facilities during the same period.

This study analysed the number of infants fully immunised from July-September 2017 when nurses were on strike.

This was compared with the number of fully immunised infants during a similar period in 2016 when nurses were not on strike. The analysis was also conducted for faith- based hospitals located within the same counties.

“The data suggests may children could have delayed vaccination or missed out all together,” says John Njuguna, a senior Public Health officer in Nyeri County and the study author. He explains that disruption of immunisation services means some children did not get the jab at the right time.

In western Kenya, for example, data shows pentavalent 1, pentavalent 3, and measles vaccines delayed by 10 per cent, 24 per cent, and 29 per cent respectively.  Pentavalent vaccineprotects against five diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and flu.

Delays or missed vaccination, Njuguna says could lead to possible outbreaks of immunizable diseases such as measles.

This warning comes at a time Kenya is experiencing a measles outbreak with 650 cases recorded by last Friday.

Data released on Monday by the World Health Organisation showed measles’ cases in Kenya to have increased by 38 from 612 cases in the previous week. Child immunisation numbers in Kenya have been falling since 2013. In August, Dr Sammy Mahugu, the head of the Health Promotion Unit at the ministry blamed county governments for not prioritising vaccination.  

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