SUKKUR/KARACHI, Dec 24: Death of four more children believed to have been caused by measles within the Salehpat taluka of Sukkur district alone on Monday alarmed authorities who ordered top district officials to rush to the area and ascertain the situation.

Amid constant reports of measles spreading fast in the districts of Larkana, Sukkur, Kandhkot-Kashmore and Jacobabad, media reports suggested that as many as 22 children have already died of the disease within the past five weeks.

On Monday, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Shah, who belongs to Sukkur district, expressed his resentment over what he regarded as lethargy of the health officials concerned over the growing threat from the disease and the plight of the affected population. He rejected Sukkur District Health Officer Jai Ramdas’s contention that most of the deaths occurred due to the cold weather.

The minister’s reaction came after reports from the Salehpat area confirmed that four children aged between three to six years died of measles on Monday morning.

The victims were identified as Rajab Ali Bhambhro, Shahmir Zado Shambani, Latif Ali Shambani and Rahib Ali Shambani — whose families appeared to be residents of Gugro village of Salehpat taluka.

Two more children, whose identities could not be ascertained immediately, reportedly died of measles in the villages of Mohammad Ramzan Bhambhro and Misri Fakir. The officials concerned were yet to confirm the two deaths.

The district authorities on Monday confirmed that 19 deaths from measles were reported from the Salehpat area and its surrounding villages over the past five weeks amid fear of the situation taking the shape of an outbreak.

Sukkur Deputy Commissioner Bilal Ahmed Memon told Dawn that the data collected from the area verified the claim but he did not agree that four more children died from the disease on Monday.

Independent sources put the measles death toll in the area within the period at 22.

The deputy commissioner said the process of collecting data from relevant departments, including the police, was under way, adding that conclusions about the gravity of the situation could be drawn only when verified information from the entire district were available.

He said that Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had recently expressed his displeasure over lethargy on the part of the health officials concerned despite the fact that the media was constantly carrying reports about the aggravating situation. He said that chief minister was concerned over the department’s failure to take prompt measures towards preventing spread of the disease.

Mr Memon said that he along with a vaccination team would visit the affected villages on Tuesday to ascertain the situation and make necessary arrangements for providing medical treatment to the children suffering from measles. A door-to-door vaccination drive against measles was also planned, he added.

EPI to launch vaccination drive in 11 districts

The expanded programme on immunisation (EPI), Sindh has decided to launch a special vaccination campaign in 11 districts in the early days of 2013.

The manager of the EPI in Sindh, Dr Mazhar Khamesani, told Dawn that the federal EPI had been approached in the wake of measles reporting and fatalities of children in various parts of the Sindh for supply of measles vaccines.

He said that the Sindh EPI would launch the measles vaccination for a week in the first week of January.

The target population of 4.2 million in the age brackets of nine months to 10 years would be vaccinated against measles in 11 districts having higher rates of measles outbreaks. Dadu, Naushahro Feroze, Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Ghotki, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Larkana, Sanghar and Kambar-Shahdadkot districts had been selected for the vaccination drive, he added.

Commenting on the overall measles situation, Prof Dr Iqbal Memon, the president of the Pakistan Paediatric Association, said that measles epidemic had been reported from all provinces, but the situation in Sindh was grave.

Referring to a health agency data, Dr Memon said that over 300 outbreaks of measles had so far been reported this year against 66 in 2011. “So far over 100 children have lost their lives due to measles this year,” he said, adding that the system for routine immunisation of children against vaccine preventable diseases badly needed to be reviewed and augmented.

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