ISLAMABAD: Health authorities have decided to start a door-to-door campaign for measles vaccinations as many people in Pakistan do not vaccinate their children because they think doing so is un-Islamic, District Health Officer Islamabad Dr Najeeb Durrani said.

According to a World Health Organisation report released on Feb 25, 2017 as many as 6,494 cases of measles were reported in Pakistan. The cases were double that reported last year and also constituted 65pc of all cases reported in the 22 countries in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus and causes rashes on the body and flu-like symptoms including fever, cough and a runny nose. The virus spreads through the air via coughing and sneezing and can be fatal for children.

65pc of measles cases in eastern Mediterranean region were from Pakistan, WHO report says

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services said that it was observed during the door-to-door polio campaign that many people refuse to vaccinate their children.

“The resistance against vaccination is so strong that tens of polio workers and officials of the law enforcement agencies have been killed. Army support has also been sought for the security of polio workers.

“We have sought help from religious scholars and also issued scientific research to show that vaccines are not haram but people still have misconceptions about it,” he said, adding that the ministry is considering starting a door-to-door campaign for measles vaccinations because that is the only way the disease can be controlled.

Islamabad DHO Dr Durrani said it is unfortunate that children in Pakistan are dying due to measles which can be completely avoided via vaccinations.

“The vaccines are available free of cost but people are still hesitant to vaccinate their children against polio, even in Islamabad, when they are oral drops. People will be even more reluctant in the case of an injectable vaccine,” he said.

He explained that the vaccine against measles consists of two injections at the age of nine and 15 months. He said the second injection is very important to ensure children are immune against the disease.

He added that a strategy will be devised for covering all children once it is known how many people refuse the door-to-door vaccinations. Dr Durrani said the health departments have been focusing more on polio eradication and that there is a need for more human resources for routine immunisation as well.

Health experts say the actual number of measles cases will be higher than the number reported as many cases are not reported in Pakistan due to a weak surveillance system. They say 2018 will be worse and that the number of cases may further increase.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018

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