COVID-19 response in Myanmar
YANGON, 01 June 2020 – Today, 1.16 million doses of routine immunization vaccines funded by the Ministry of Health and Sports and procured through UNICEF arrived at the Yangon International airport, to support the resumption of immunization services across Myanmar. The UNICEF chartered cargo flight arranged with the cooperation of Scanned Global Logistics also brought the second batch of 10,000 COVID-19 test kits and other supplies as part of UNICEF’s ongoing support to the Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) to scale up testing capacity and fight the pandemic.
Since March 2020, routine childhood immunization services have been disrupted on a global scale that may be unprecedented since the inception of the expanded programme on immunization (EPI) in the 1970s. Similarly, in Myanmar, routine immunization services were temporarily halted from 1st April by the Ministry of Health and Sports, to allow the health sector to focus on its COVID-19 prevention and response activities and to maintain physical distancing measures to contain the spread of the virus.
However, the resumption of immunisation services was carefully planned and prepared for, taking account of essential infection prevention measures, alongside standard operational guidelines for health workers, and instructions for care takers to follow. With minimum community transmission in the country, where the confirmed cases are from quarantine sites, routine immunization was resumed in Government hospitals across the country from 18th May and will re-commence in rural health centres and communities from 1st June 2020.
“The Ministry of Health and Sports will continue vaccination services not only for all the eligible children who missed the regular doses in April and May, but also for the children who missed any of the routine vaccinations for other reasons in the past. We would like to request care takers to cooperate with health workers, to follow the recommended infection prevention and control measures, social distancing and hand hygiene measures when attending the vaccination clinics so that all the children are vaccinated safely and can stay away from COVID-19,” said Dr. Myint Htwe, Minister of Health and Sports.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, immunization sessions need a customized approach where services are provided following relevant infection prevention and control and safety measures associated with COVID-19. To minimize the risks of infection for health staff and community members, immunization posts will administer vaccines to an average of 50 children per day to ensure the vaccination posts are systematically organized in line with the recommended measures for COVID-19 prevention.
“COVID-19 is an eye-opener for all of us; it proves that outbreaks can happen in many countries all at the same time. Similarly, vaccine preventable diseases, like measles can re-surge at any time if coverage goes down. Therefore, Myanmar is taking a commendable step in resuming childhood vaccinations now,” said Dr. Stephan Paul Jost, WHO Representative to Myanmar.
UNICEF has been working closely with the Government of Myanmar, WHO, Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and other partners to facilitate the imminent arrival of vaccines in routine immunization programme in Myanmar.
“It is essential to complete the required doses of immunization at the right time with quality vaccines, to save the lives of children and reduce the risk of vaccine preventable outbreaks especially in the remote, hard to reach and conflict affected areas where the health needs are immense,” said Ms. June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar. “UNICEF remains committed to supporting the Government’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and to ensure that children continue to receive other essential services to keep them healthy during this outbreak,” added Ms. Kunugi.
Using the platform of immunization services, the Ministry of Health and Sports will also resume EPI plus activities which include health literacy and promotion, maternal and child health and nutrition promotion activities.