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Measles epidemic

January 02, 2013

THE measles epidemic raging across parts of Sindh is cause for grave concern. While as per the Sindh government’s figures over 50 measles deaths have been reported in the province, some media reports on Tuesday gave a far higher figure — over 200 deaths in 2012 in Sindh alone — attributed to the World Health Organisation. Young children have been the biggest victims of the highly infectious illness, especially those affected by the twin plagues of measles and malnourishment. Many experts have pointed to the unsatisfactory routine immunisation programme as the root cause of the problem. One study carried out by senior doctors says only 55 per cent of children surveyed in Karachi were found to be immunised.

If that is the case in the metropolis, it is not wrong to assume that the situation is much worse in smaller towns. Malnourished children are more susceptible to ailments like measles and ensuing complications such as pneumonia and diarrhoea. The cold weather has only added to the children’s vulnerability.

Ideally, 90 per cent of children in a locality should be immunised to halt the spread of measles. But many doctors remain sceptical of government claims that a satisfactory percentage of children have been vaccinated. Their scepticism is not without reason, for if the immunisation campaigns had been thorough such a high number of deaths would not have been reported. A multi-pronged response is needed to deal with the crisis. Immunisation campaigns need to be carried out in all affected areas while the state must publicise the importance of vaccinating children, both at nine and 15 months. Secondly, it is the parents’ responsibility to get their offspring immunised. There have been reports indicating that some parents have refused, supposedly influenced by the anti-polio propaganda or superstitious beliefs.

Here community leaders and religious figures should step in to dispel the people’s apprehensions and give a boost to the anti-measles campaign. Also, as we have said before, while anti-polio efforts need the state’s full focus, given the nature of the threat, the authorities must ensure that the routine immunisation programme does not fall by the wayside in the process.