Growing measles alarm Prevention is better than ‘promise’

Report
from DAWN Group of Newspapers
Published on 20 Jan 2013 View Original

From the Newspaper | Asif Choudary

LAHORE, Jan 20: The federal and provincial governments are facing grave challenges to stem the tide of the measles though they officially boast preparedness to go all-out against the dreaded disease.

The government says it is planning to launch the “largest-ever mass measles campaign” in the country to prevent it from becoming an epidemic.

Health experts say the peak season for the measles starts in July and the outbreak of the “killer disease” in the country in winter (December and January) is alarming to say the least.“The proposed national health campaign of vaccinating the children will be kicked off in phases to reach over 65 million children and minimise the risk of deaths,” a senior official of the Expanded Programme on Immunization told Dawn.

He said the federal government had started engaging its key partners like Unicef, the World Health Organization, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Foundation and the American Red Cross, and the donors for technical and financial support to fight measles. He said the disease was spreading to all provinces.

He feared that if the initiative was not taken before July, it might lead to a national health disaster as deaths were being reported at a time when measles was least expected to break out.

The federal authorities should give the scheme final shape before a new setup, he said.

“The government needs generous financial contribution by its partners and trained human resources as it alone can’t even think of launching the countrywide campaign,” he pointed out.

He said the campaign would be launched with the primary goal of administering vaccine to more than 65 million children between six months and 13 years, the official said.

“Initially, the country requires over US $30 million to reach the target population of the children to reduce morbidity and mortality and to prevent them from disease during the campaign,” he said.

PUNJAB: As for the largest province, the official said Punjab was facing shortage of measles vaccine as the number of deaths and affected children was on the rise. He said more than 15 million children between six months and 10 years would remain unvaccinated as the EPI management had turned down the request of the Punjab government of providing it measles vaccine.

The request was submitted when a core group of experts including child specialists had alerted the government to a possible epidemic in the province.

“It is imperative to fight risk of measles spread in Punjab and if delayed for a month or so, it may face Sindh-like situation,” warned the official.

He said GAVI had expressed its inability to ensure provision of the vaccine to Punjab before April when the EPI informed it about the requirement. At present, he said, the Punjab government had a stock of 15 million doses of the vaccine for one-time dispensation to the children as against the requirement of 30 million doses.

Keeping in view the looming threat of the disease, paediatricians had strongly recommended a “full-fledged campaign” to prevent its children from Sindh-like situation. He said the experts were of the view that “random routine immunisation coverage” in the province would hardly be effective.

“Next two months will be very crucial and dereliction can have drastic effects on the health of children,” he said.

Meanwhile, a handout quoted a Punjab Health Department spokesman as having said satisfactory arrangements had been made for the treatment of the children affected by measles. Anti-measles vaccination drive was being carried out in the affected areas, he said.

He claimed that immediately after outbreak of measles in Sindh, the Punjab government had started vaccinating the children in the districts adjacent to Sindh and Balochistan. He said 1,408 cases had been reported in Punjab so far and seven of them had died (one each in Gujranwala and Kasur and five in Rajanpur).

He claimed that four children had died of pneumonia in Layyah the other day and the report of measles was incorrect. He said the Layyah EDO health had sent teams of child specialists to the affected areas for the treatment of the children.

Special Assistant to Chief Minister on Health Khwaja Salman Rafiq has convened an emergent meeting of senior officers on Monday (today) to review arrangements for the treatment of measles patients. The meeting will be held at 11am at the Directorate of Health Services on Cooper Road.

DAWN Group of Newspapers:

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers