THE death of four children reportedly due to measles in Sukkur on Monday has put renewed focus on the contagious disease, which, according to the World Health Organisation, is a major cause of child mortality in Pakistan. While measles cases have been reported from across the country, Sindh has been particularly affected. As reported in this paper, over 20 children have died in several districts of upper Sindh over the past five weeks. Reliable estimates paint an even more grim picture; in the current year over 300 outbreaks have been reported in Sindh while there have been over 100 deaths in the province due to measles.
Poor routine immunisation coverage seems to be the major reason behind the frequent outbreaks of the preventable disease. Paediatricians have called for increasing the number of vaccination centres across the country; doctors point to a drop in routine immunisation as contributing to the increased cases of measles. A door-to-door vaccination drive must be launched immediately in the affected areas.
Also, there are disturbing reports that vaccinators have been facing resistance in upper Sindh from parents. Superstitious beliefs are rife in the region and some villagers have refused to have their children immunised as they believe the measles outbreaks are ‘tests of faith’. The state must inject renewed vigour into the campaign to immunise all children, especially in far-flung areas and urban slums. Only a coordinated effort by government officials, elected representatives and community elders to dispel false propaganda and superstitious beliefs can convince reluctant parents to immunise their children. It must also be said that while the campaign against polio needs sustained efforts to eradicate the crippling ailment, the state needs to give equal importance to vaccinating children against other diseases, such as measles, included in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation.