Somalia: Vaccine fears fuel measles outbreak

News and Press Release
Originally published

NAIROBI, 7 April 2011 (IRIN) - The cause of a measles outbreak in Somalia has yet to be determined but doctors say initial suspicions point to "unfounded rumours" that the vaccine could cause HIV/AIDS in children and interfere with their reproductive abilities.

"There are false rumours creating fear among parents that the vaccination causes HIV/AIDS and can affect a child's reproductive system," said Ismail Isse Roble, head of the Bari Medical Association in Bosasso, capital of Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Roble said most of the children brought to his clinic had not been vaccinated.

"The irony is that most of the affected children are those whose parents can afford medical care," he said. "Children in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps [in Bosasso] are least affected because they took advantage of the free vaccinations provided."

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Somalia, 83 cases, including five deaths, were reported in Mogadishu in the past five weeks. Some 127 cases were reported in Puntland, WHO said. The agency said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), WHO and their partners conducted outbreak response campaigns in the last week of March, vaccinating more than 75,000 children.

Although measles cannot be treated, WHO said, "it can easily be prevented by taking the measles vaccine that is provided in all MCH [mother-child health] facilities in Somalia daily for free".

Lul Mahamud Mohamed, head of the pediatric department at Benadir Hospital in Mogadishu, told IRIN she had been seeing more and more cases in the past three months.

"In February, we had 53 cases with three deaths; in March, there were 81 cases with six deaths," she said. "In the first week of April, we already had 17 cases and two deaths. The increasing numbers point to an upward trend," said Mohamed.

She said 90 percent of the patients were younger than two. Since February, 151 cases of measles have been reported in Benadir hospital alone.

"Already, there are response campaigns going on in the affected areas but they are being hampered by lack of access to certain areas," Mohamed told IRIN.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, which mostly affects children and is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons. The virus can be transmitted in the air, in respiratory droplets or by direct contact with the nasal and throat secretions of infected persons, according to WHO.

Mohamed said overcrowding in parts of Mogadishu and in the IDP camps in the Afgoye corridor facilitated the spread of the virus. Scotch the rumours

She said vaccines were available but parents had to be convinced to take their children to be immunized. "We need to mount an awareness campaign to fight these false rumours and lies that the vaccine will harm the child."

Mohamed appealed to parents with children aged between nine months and five years who had never received the measles vaccination to take their children to the nearest immunizing health facility.

Roble in Bosasso said religious scholars should also inform the people about the safety of the vaccines.

"They are the ones that ordinary Somalis will listen to; it is sad that in this day and age our children must die because of ignorance and lies," Roble said.

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