Nepal

Measles outbreak kills two children and infects over 150 in Chepang settlements of Dhading district

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By: Harihar Singh Rathore

The Chepang families fear that the global Covid-19 pandemic is overshadowing the outbreak of measles-rubella in these settlements.

Two children have died and more than 150 infected with measles-rubella in Chepang settlements of Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality in Dhading since its outbreak one and a half months ago.

"Eight-month-old Sushant Chepang from Ward No. 4 of the rural municipality died on March 24, and 29-month-old Anisha Chepang from Ward No. 6 died on March 30,” said Shankhar Duwadi, the health coordinator of the rural municipality. "Wards 1, 4, 5 and 6 of the rural municipality have been severely affected by the outbreak.”

In Ward No. 6, most of the infected children are from Tarketar, Bungpung, Bhume Danda, Bumrang, Soldanda, Rotesh, Ruding and Jarung, according to Duwadi.

“The outbreak was detected when four children were brought to the basic health centre at Chadauri in Ward No. 7 on February 18,” said Duwadi. “A team of health workers from the rural municipality had reached the affected areas, including Rotesh and Soldanda, the next day to contain the disease.”

According to Duwadi, 45 children were found infected with measles in the area.

“Of them, we carried out blood tests of seven,” Duwadi said, “Two of them who were in critical condition were sent to Kanti Bal Hospital in Kathmandu for treatment.”

Dhading was declared fully immunised on December 2, 2017, by Deepak Bohara, then Minister for Health and Population, amid an event attended by leaders from all political parties and senior bureaucrats from the Ministry of Health and Population.

"However, every year there is an outbreak of measles-rubella in Chepang settlements because most of the children have not been vaccinated," says Tilak Chepang, who teaches at Shankar Devi Secondary School in Benighat.

Chairman of Benighat Ward No. 6 Dev Krishna Aale says none of the Chepang children in the ward were vaccinated before the outbreak. Out of the 500 households in the ward, 350 are Chepangs.

"Since the Chepang settlements are in remote areas and difficult to reach for health workers, most Chepang families do not receive regular immunisation services. This causes outbreaks to occur every year," said Aale.

Out of the 77 districts, 58, including Dhading, were declared fully immunised where all children under 15 months of age were given routine vaccines against the viral disease.

The local unit says that it has immunised around 200 children in the rural municipality after the outbreak a month and a half ago. Laxman Bhattarai, chief administrative officer of Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality, said, “We will launch an immunisation campaign after the end of the nationwide lockdown and vaccinate all children below the age of five against measles and other diseases.”

Anisha’s parents, 60-year-old Shanta Bahadur Chepang and his 30-year-old wife Soltimaya, say their four other daughters are still bedridden because of measles. Their situation has been further exacerbated by the nationwide lockdown, with the family running out of food and no other means to replenish their food stock.

The Chepang families in the rural municipality fear that the global pandemic is overshadowing the outbreak of measles-rubella in these settlements.

“None of my children is immunised, and this lockdown has made it harder for us to seek medical treatment for our children,” Soltimaya said.