KARACHI- Measles cases in 2012 have surged by almost five times of that the previous year in Pakistan, leading to the deaths of hundreds of children, according to an international health body.
The spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that 306 children died in Pakistan because of the infectious disease in 2012, a dramatic surge from the 64 children who died in 2011.
The WHO said the jump was most pronounced in southern Sindh province, where measles killed 210 children in 2012. Twenty-eight children died there the year before.
The organisation did not give a reason for the increase in deaths, but a provincial health official in Sindh said that the disease hit areas where poor families did not vaccinate their children.
A provincial health minister said 100 children died in Sindh province in December alone, mostly in areas where many people were not vaccinated.
He said health officials recently launched a campaign to vaccinate 2.9 million children in the affected areas of the province and urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
“We are vaccinating more than 450 patients per day. We are working on vaccination since the outbreak of measles in the area,” Dr Shahid Hafeez Shahani, a government official, said.
The cause of the outbreak is attributed to Pakistan’s poor health care system, unsanitary conditions in many regions due to poverty, and a lack of education about how to prevent disease. The officials believe that the worst-hit areas are poverty stricken areas where children did not receive vaccination. The perception amongst many in the rural areas is also different and they view vaccination campaigns with suspicion as a western plot to sterilise Muslims.
Sindh province, the area hardest hit by the measles outbreak, has also been battered by repeated floods in recent years that have damaged hospitals and clinics.Measles is an extremely infectious disease spread by coughing and sneezing or personal contact. It causes a fever, cough and a rash all over the body.
Pakistan’s immunisation coverage is around 65 per cent with main focus being the important cities and so far Punjab’s performance has been better than others. The current outbreak is the result of huge difference in routine immunisation coverage between the provinces, districts and cities. As an emergency response to the outbreak in Sindh, the provincial health ministry had started a large measles vaccination campaign targeting 2.9 million children in eight districts of Sindh. An extensive campaign has been planned between December 31, 2012, and January 9, 2013, for eight districts in Sindh, including Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Ghotki and Kashmore. The targeted population for this campaign is to vaccinate children of ages between nine months and 10 years.
The vaccines have already been made available for the campaign. Most people who contract the disease recover, but it can be fatal for malnourished children.
According to WHO, 139,300 people died of measles worldwide in 2010.