"We have managed to control the outbreak and this is a real achievement for all those involved including the government in one of the biggest efforts ever seen," country manager for Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Tajikistan, Paul McPhun told IRIN from the capital, Dushanbe.
In total, six districts in the Rasht valley, some 250 km east of Dushanbe which has a population of 260,000 were affected in December 2002. The vaccination of children aged between one and 15, was carried out by the French NGO, MSF, the British NGO, Merlin, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in conjunction with the Tajik Ministry of Health. The worst affected districts in the valley were, Tajikabad and Jirgital.
"This collaboration was the first of its kind and it is a positive step," he said, pointing out that there had been reluctance from authorities to carry out such a large scale vaccination in the past as it was thought that it was not as big a problem.
Concern over the situation was growing following the reports of deaths occurring from knock-on effects from the contagious disease. "We know that children have died, but we don't know how many. Most of them died from pneumonia which can be caused by measles," he explained.
Some 60 percent of recorded measles cases in the valley were further aggravated by complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. However, higher than normal nutritional levels, due to a good harvest had spared the lives of innocent children, according to McPhun. "The children were in a healthier state because nutrition wasn't a problem."
Additional assistance in training MSF staff and health workers was provided by Merlin in the Rasht Valley. The aid agencies plan to vaccinate a further 4,000 children in March, who could not be reached due their isolation.
Measles, as well as other contagious diseases, remain a major annual problem in this impoverished nation of six million people. "This country is continuing to suffer from an inadequate health system," McPhun added. With an urgent need for the country to begin rebuilding the local infrastructure which suffered heavily due to the civil war, McPhun called for more attention to be paid to the issue.
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