Curbing measles

December 07, 2019


THE damaging effects of the anti-vaxxing community’s propaganda are being felt around the world as WHO has raised the alarm over the surge in measles cases in many countries. WHO says that nearly 10m people globally were affected by measles in 2018, while around 140,000 children died from it. The problem only seems to be worsening with time as the data for 2019, until last month, revealed a three-fold increase for the number of cases, as compared to the corresponding period in 2018. The pandemic has been aptly described by the WHO director general as “an outrage”; he said that the spread of a vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles reflected the world’s “collective failure” to protect vulnerable children. This warning should alert Pakistani health authorities since the highly infectious disease makes a deadly comeback every few years in the country. In 2017, there were 6,494 confirmed measles cases in Pakistan, according to WHO; this figure accounted for more than 65pc of the total number of cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region comprising 22 countries. Around 130 children died from measles in 2017 while the number surged to nearly 300 in the first eight months of 2018, after which the government decided to launch a countrywide immunisation drive. The poor coverage of routine immunisation in Pakistan — which remains around 50pc at best when for infectious diseases it should be at least 90pc — combined with other factors such as rampant malnutrition in children under five, could render another major outbreak of this infectious virus in the country quite dangerous.

On the other hand, in Pakistan too, anti-vaccination propaganda has marred polio drives over many years, and more recently, the immunisation programme for XDR-typhoid in Sindh, making it all the more difficult to curtail the spread of illnesses. The measles virus is highly infectious and tends to linger on surfaces or in the air, putting every unvaccinated person at risk. If not nipped in the bud, a measles outbreak could spell disaster for our already stretched healthcare system.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019