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800 deaths compel authorities to vaccinate 91m children against measles in Pakistan

By Our Correspondent
November 13, 2021
800 deaths compel authorities to vaccinate 91m children against measles in Pakistan

Around 800 children may have died due to measles in Pakistan this year, compelling the authorities to launch the world’s largest vaccination drive against the extremely infectious diseases of measles and rubella, during which over 91 million children will be vaccinated during 12-day campaign starting on Monday, experts and officials said on Friday.

“As many as 8,357 cases of measles have so far been reported in Pakistan, and the reported number of deaths due to measles is 127, but looking at the case fatality rate, it is estimated that over 800 children may have been died in Pakistan due to measles, which is an extremely infectious disease,” Prof Jamal Raza, executive director of the Sindh Institute of Children and Neonatology, told an orientation session for health journalists at the Karachi Press Club (KPC).

The session was organised by the Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh in collaboration with Unicef, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international agencies to sensitise them about the importance of vaccination drive in the country.

Prof Raza said measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult, adding that it has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide.

He maintained that measles’ reported cases increased approximately four times this year as compared to 2020 when only 2,747 cases had been reported, while only 51 deaths had been reported last year, adding that Sindh had so far witnessed 45 deaths alone in the first 43 weeks of the current year, followed by 39 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 16 in Punjab, 26 in Balochistan and one in KPMD.

“The number of suspected cases of measles is around 18,411 this year, and keeping in view the case fatality rate, it is estimated that around 800 children may have been died due to measles alone in Pakistan so far.”

The SICHN executive director further said around 82 countries of the world had successfully eliminated measles from their soil, while 82 counties had controlled rubella on their soil, adding that with the help of effective vaccination drives, these countries had averted 23 million deaths so far.

Regarding rubella, he said it is also a viral disease, which is not as lethal as measles, but it can cause the congenital rubella syndrome, an illness in infants that results from maternal infection with rubella virus during pregnancy. When rubella infection occurs during early pregnancy, serious consequences -- such as miscarriages, stillbirths and a constellation of severe birth defects in infants -- can result, he added.

Urging parents to get their children between the age of 9 months and 15 years vaccinated during the upcoming measles and rubella drive, he said the media should support the campaign and apprise the parents of importance of vaccination, which can save lives and prevent children from getting permanently disabled.

To a query, he said there were very mild side effects associated with measles vaccination, and added that he had not seen any extremely serious side effect of vaccination during his entire career.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Waqar Soomro from the EPI Sindh said they were preparing for this campaign for over six months, during which over 16,000 teams of vaccinators and health workers had been trained while social mobilisers would be used to bring children to fixed vaccination sites while mobile teams would be used to approach far-flung areas of the province for vaccinating children.

Dr Ahsanullah Khan said they had planned to vaccinate around 20 million children in Sindh between the ages of nine months and 15 years, and all the children, irrespective of their vaccination status, would be vaccinated during the upcoming drive in the province.

Unicef communication specialist Suneel Raja said they were using print, electronic and social media to sensitise people about the importance of the measles rubella drive. He added that people from different walks of life had recorded video clips and messages, urging the people to get their children vaccinated against measles and rubella in the country.

The Unicef official urged the media to support the drive, and instead of listening to rumours, it should try to educate the masses and provide them with accurate scientific information so that they could get their children vaccinated without any hesitation.