NEW YORK/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, April 12, 2021---Hundreds of children are falling ill with measles in Zabarmari, a small town in Nigeria's conflict-affected Borno state, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today. A vaccination campaign is needed to curb the epidemic in Zabarmari and the state capital Maiduguri.
"We are engaged in discussions with the authorities and preparing to support them in a catch-up vaccination campaign in Maiduguri and Zabarmari as soon as vaccines are available, because measles is extremely contagious and especially dangerous for young children," said David Thérond, MSF head of mission.
The vaccination plan is still under discussion at state and federal levels with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
MSF is treating children with measles at Gwange pediatric hospital in Maiduguri. The first child was admitted on December 3, and the number of patients has increased since then at Gwange and other Maiduguri hospitals. From January 1 to April 3, MSF admitted a total of 1,158 children with measles at Gwange pediatric hospital, of whom 58 percent came from Zabarmari, which is about 12 miles from Maiduguri.
MSF increased the number of beds from 65 to 105 in the Gwange hospital and also reinforced inpatient capacity at another health facility run by MSF in Maiduguri's Fori district. MSF also launched activities in partnership with health authorities in the town of Zabarmari, which has an estimated population of over 45,000 people, including families displaced by conflict in the region.
Because conflict in the region makes accessing Zabarmari challenging, MSF has set up a local team comprising 10 community health workers and a nurse. This team in Zabarmari is supervised by a mobile team based in Maiduguri to support local primary health care and refer children with severe cases of measles to the Gwange pediatric hospital.
Borno state has had repeated measles epidemics over the past decade. During the measles outbreak in 2019, eight local government areas of Borno state were affected and MSF provided care to 4,000 children in Gwange and Bama hospitals. Several factors contribute to the epidemic: routine vaccinations are not carried out in many locations because, according to health authorities, more than 60 percent of health centers in the region are closed or unable to function properly because of the conflict. The fighting has also forced the departure of some aid organizations that were providing health care in remote areas.
Kubura Mohammed, a mother of seven children from Zabarmari, came to the pediatric hospital with her four-year-old daughter, Kaltume Hafisu, who was diagnosed with measles.
"My daughter had been ill for six days before I brought her to the hospital," she said. "The medical team were all around my daughter throughout our first night because her condition was really critical. Her treatment began from the moment she was admitted and this includes blood transfusion and the administration of intravenous fluids. I must add that about two weeks ago, one of my daughters was also treated for measles in this hospital. All of my seven children have had measles at different times."