Karachi witnesses spike in cases of measles

Published February 10, 2024
A woman administers the anti-measles vaccine to a student at a North Nazimabad school.—White Star /file
A woman administers the anti-measles vaccine to a student at a North Nazimabad school.—White Star /file

KARACHI: The city has been seeing a surge in measles’ cases in recent weeks, indicating failure of the government-run immunisation programme and persistent neglect of parents towards their children’s fundamental health needs, it emerged on Friday.

Information gathered from different public sector hospitals, including the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) and Dr Ruth K.M Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) showed that measles had been a continued challenge for health experts since last year.

“This is true but cases have increased in recent weeks,” a senior CHK doctor wishing not to be named said, adding that a significant number of these patients were reporting complications and required immediate hospitalisation.

A similar response was shared by doctors at NICH. At least one family, sources said, had to shift two critically ill children from NICH to Sindh Govt Infectious Disease Hospital & Research Centre (SIDHRC) over a week back after being told that all beds were occupied in the intensive care units. Sources said the family had three measles-affected children. One died at home.

Over 106 children died at two hospitals last year due to vaccine-preventable disease

“At all times, the hospital is overburdened with patients. Unfortunately, we have a waiting list for the intensive care as well and patients get this facility as soon as the beds get vacant,” another NICH doctor told Dawn.

Deadly year

According to experts, the year 2023 was a tough one for children who reported in large numbers at hospitals with vaccine-preventable diseases, especially diphtheria and measles. The latter claimed lives of 106 children at two hospitals alone last year.

The SIDHRC had 700 admissions of measles’ patients last year. Of them, 53 children died. The hospital also reported 29 deaths from diphtheria in 2023.

The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) had the same number of mortalities, with over 400 admissions last year.

Dr Jamal Raza, who heads SICHN, believes the actual number of infections must be much higher as patients report at hospitals only when complications occur. Secondly, the disease remains undetected in significant number of cases due to lack of testing facilities.

“Parents must get their children protected against all vaccine-preventable diseases including measles. Primary immunisation is the only way forward. Once the illness gets severe, you have to face the consequences.”

Dr Raza also spoke about the complications being seen in some cases that normally didn’t occur in measles. “Some children have also reported with heart problems. It’s difficult to say what might have caused this in the absence of any virological study.

At SIDHRC, Dr Abdul Wahid Rajput shared that the hospital had 59 admissions in January this year so far with three deaths.

“Right now, 11 measles’ patients are under treatment at our facility. Of them, one is a 16-year-old and the other 12-year-old. All patients haven’t received their vaccine doses,” he said, adding that complications from the disease included pneumonia, encephalitis and blindness.

“This happens either due to late reporting of patients or in cases where the child is acutely malnourished. Sufficient levels of Vitamin A help save lives.”

The Indus Hospital had over 100 admissions of measles’ patients last year.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2024

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