War Against Measles

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Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of health

Nigeria’s federal government orders a nationwide vaccination of children between nine months and 14 years old against measles in response to reports of fresh outbreaks in some parts of the country

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Nov. 18, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

TO understand the grief of losing a child, ask Oluchi Ezeh, a civil servant at the federal ministry of power in Abuja. She has just lost her two-year old daughter after a long battle with measles. Although medical records show that the child’s death resulted from other causes, Ezeh believes that it was the measles infection that made her vulnerable to other infirmities. “As Christians, we cannot question God but this grief is too much for me to bear. I am very sad. The doctor said she died of other causes but I believe it was the measles infection that weakened her system.

Painful as her experience appears, Ezeh is not the only mother who has lost a child to the deadly infection called measles. In various parts of the country, hundreds of children are dying from measles and other children-related diseases. This development is a constant source of worry for medical experts. They are worried that  despite the huge amount of money spent on immunisation campaigns, cases of measles are still rampant in the country. Statistics by the United Nations children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, indicates that cases of measles in Nigeria increased from 383 in 2006 to 2,542 in 2007 and 9,510 in 2008.

It was this revelation that motivated the federal government to initiate a nationwide measles vaccination for children between nine months and 14 years old in 2008. But despite these efforts, cases of measles outbreak did not abate. Present records show that measles outbreak is on the rise in Nigeria and other African countries. In Nigeria alone, there were 9,510 reported cases of measles in 2012. About 717 of those   cases occurred in children below two years of age, while 1,445 cases occurred in children between two and four years old. The records also say that 354 cases were found in children between five years and 14 years old.

Considering the trend of outbreaks in Nigeria and the African continent, the World Health Organisation, WHO and UNICEF recommended accelerated measles control in Africa, using measles mortality reduction strategies. The strategies include a target to achieve and maintain more than 80 percent coverage with routine measles vaccination of infants, and to provide a second dose of measles vaccine through supplemental immunisation activities, SIAs, among others.

To complement this strategy, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, is also making efforts to conduct another phase of nationwide mass vaccination for children in various parts of the country. Speaking at a workshop in Abuja recently, Nkiru Asomugha, head, primary health care advocacy and social mobilisation division of NPHCDA, said the agency was planning to hold a five-day vaccination campaign in 17 southern states from November 2- 6.

Asomugha said the agency had concluded the first phase of the campaign in the 19 northern states and the federal capital territory, Abuja, in October 2013. According to her, the first phase of the campaign in the northern states targeted more than 15 million children, while more than 12 million are expected to be vaccinated during the campaign in the southern parts of the country.

Asomugha also said that a total of 9,418 vaccination posts had been set up in all the 17 states to provide free vaccination services to children against measles. “Measles, which is a vaccine-preventable disease, is still endemic in Nigeria and remains a leading cause of death of children under five years. The campaign is targeted at children between the ages of nine and to 59 months, and the key objective of the campaign is to reduce child mortality in Nigeria through a second vaccination opportunity against measles through SIAs.”

Asomugha assured that measles vaccine was completely safe, effective and free, stressing that the major symptoms of measles included high fever, rashes and cough. She warned that if not treated in time, measles could cause serious health complications, including blindness, diarrhoea, brain damage and pneumonia. She added that current data in Nigeria indicates that more than 57 local government areas had measles coverage figures below the national average of 78 per cent.

 Omawumi Daibo, the south-south zonal coordinator of NPHCDA, also assured Nigerians that the Nigeria integrated measles follow-up campaign would strengthen the health system in the country. Daibo regretted the existence of measles immunity gap, adding that the 2011 post follow-up campaign coverage was poor in 299 local government areas of the country.

“UNICEF is supporting Nigeria to fight measles; the country is moving forward and our aim is to bring infant mortality to its lowest level. This is the second campaign against measles, having done the first in the northern parts of the country a few weeks ago. In a few weeks from now, we will also have a campaign against yellow fever.”

In view of the benefits of the exercise, medical experts at the event advised parents and care givers to ensure their wards take advantage of the opportunity in order to protect their children from measles.

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