Newborn babies at risk as hospitals run out of TB vaccine

Wednesday December 30 2015

Director of Medical Services Nicholas Muraguri. Dr Muraguri confirmed on December 29, 2015 that there is a nationwide shortage of Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that protects children against TB and diseases like meningitis. PHOTO | JAMES EKWAM | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Director of Medical Services Nicholas Muraguri. Dr Muraguri confirmed on December 29, 2015 that there is a nationwide shortage of Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that protects children against TB and diseases like meningitis. PHOTO | JAMES EKWAM | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By EUNICE KILONZO
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Newborn babies across the country are at risk of contracting Tuberculosis (TB) because government hospitals have run out of a crucial vaccine.

Ministry of Health officials Tuesday confirmed the nationwide shortage of Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine that protects children against TB and diseases like meningitis.

An emergency supply of about 1.3 million doses of the vaccine is expected next week.

Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu told the Nation the shortage is part of “an international vaccine crisis”.

He said the vaccine was procured in September through the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), but there were delays in delivery.

“We placed an order of 4.7 million doses through Unicef, which was supposed to last six months. It is an international shortage. We have asked them to supply 1.3 million doses first so that we disperse them to the facilities,” Dr Mailu said in a telephone interview.

He said the problem was beyond the government’s control but expressed optimism that the shortage will end soon.

According to the Unicef website, in 2015, 180 million doses of BCG vaccine were required but only 107 million were available from manufacturers.

A source from the Ministry of Health told the Nation that the batch ordered in September should have arrived in the country.

He said some health centres still had stocks of the vaccine and plans were underway to redistribute them to hospital where supplies had run out.

BABIES AT RISK

The vaccine, which is given as a single dose, is commonly administered at birth and is on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of essential medicines.

More than 80 per cent of all newborns in the country get the vaccine.

It is given as an injection to infants on the left forearm and leaves a distinctive scar.

Children are at risk of tuberculosis because of their weak immunity and the chances increase if someone in their household is infected with the bacterial disease.

Doctors say it is difficult to diagnose the disease in children.

Director of Medical Services Dr Nicholas Muraguri told the Nation that about 1.3 million children are born annually, translating to 3,562 babies daily.

Assuming the supplies ran out on December 21, about 26,000 newborns — and counting — are at risk of contracting the killer disease today.

According to the WHO, the BCG vaccine is used in countries with a high prevalence of TB, such as Kenya, to prevent childhood tuberculosis and meningitis.

At least one million children contract TB worldwide each year, 140,000 of whom die of the curable disease.

In 2012, Kenya reported a total of 99,159 cases of the disease, of which around 9,223 were children below the age of 15.

Kenya is one of 22 countries which collectively account for about 80 per cent of the world’s TB cases.

Already, parents in Eldoret are worried for their newborn babies after the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) raised the alarm over the vaccine’s scarcity.

The hospital’s acting Chief Executive Officer, Dr Wilson Aruasa, said: “It is not just a problem here but all over the country.”

TB AND HIV/AIDS
Ms Christine Okwaro, a mother of four from Uasin Gishu County, told the Nation that her last child was born on December 13 at Huruma District Hospital but was yet to receive the vaccine.

“I am shocked that my child is three weeks old but has not yet received the BCG vaccine. I don’t know what is going to happen next.

“I went to St Jude Catholic Hospital in Eldoret but I was told the vaccine was not available. Last week, December 21, I visited the Eldoret District Hospital but the challenge was the same.”

In Mombasa, a senior medical officer at the Coast General and Referral Hospital said they had run out of the vaccine.

“We are currently waiting for the supplies from Kenya Medical Supplies Agency. They were supposed to deliver the stock today,” said the doctor.

The head of the National TB Reference Lab, Ms Josephine Mburu, said nearly 90,000 people were diagnosed with TB last year and that an estimated 20,000 cases went undetected.

Ms Mburu said the major factor responsible for the large TB burden in Kenya was the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Okwany