NIH finds measles in samples of four Keamari victims, dengue in one

February 02, 2023

A measles outbreak could be the “probable cause” of the deaths in Ali Muhammad Goth of District Keamari in Karachi after the National Institute of Health , Islamabad, confirmed that four...

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A measles outbreak could be the “probable cause” of the deaths in Ali Muhammad Goth of District Keamari in Karachi after the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, confirmed that four of the 13 samples sent to it for analysis were infected with measles and one with the dengue virus, Sindh Health Department officials said on Tuesday.

The NIH has conveyed to the office of Sindh’s director general health that four of the 13 people whose samples had been sent to it for analysis were infected with measles, a health department official told The News. “One of them, a three-year-old child who was sick for the past few days, died on Sunday night, raising the death toll to 16.”

At least 16 people, mostly children in the 2-4 age group, have died in Ali Muhammad Goth since January 10. The initial investigation by epidemiologists and health experts blamed toxic gases emitted from illegal factories as well as an outbreak of measles as “likely causes” of the deaths.

The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), however, ruled out any environmental cause behind the deaths of the children and the adults in the affected area. They claimed that the “results obtained from the laboratory tests do not indicate excess of any parameter in the air quality which could lead to casualties from inhaling any toxic gas”.

The health department official quoted the NIH as saying that one of the 13 people was suffering from dengue fever, but no infectious agent was found in the blood samples of the remaining victims.

Commenting on the findings of the NIH, a Field Epidemiology & Laboratory Training Programme official said that a lack of routine immunisation and the absence of public health facilities in the area led to the measles outbreak, resulting in the deaths of 16 people.

“The locals told us that they have never seen the face of any vaccinator in the area. When their children or any elder used to get sick with measles-like symptoms, they used to lock them in a room, and many of the seriously sick children and adults died due to that,” claimed the official.

Health investigators have blamed District Health Officer Arif-ur-Rehman, his team as well as the people responsible for the routine and special vaccination drives for the Keamari deaths, saying that their criminal negligence and dereliction to their duties resulted in the deaths of the people, whose lives could have been saved.

“Confirmation of four measles cases indicates that there was a local measles outbreak in the area, as measles is such a contagious disease that a person can infect at least 20 people around them,” he said, adding that vaccination and treatment could save precious lives in the area.

Sindh Parliamentary Secretary Health Qasim Soomro said he was unaware of the NIH’s test reports or the measles outbreak in Ali Muhammad Goth, but expressed dissatisfaction over the Sepa report that claimed of finding no trace of any toxic gas in the air quality samples from the area.

“They took the samples when the air was clean, as the factories were closed down by the police and the local administration. They didn’t take the samples from those factories to see what type of chemicals they were burning and producing,” he said, adding that vaccine hesitancy among some of the people was also resulting in outbreaks of infectious diseases in the country.

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