Measles outbreak imperils children in K-P

In Local
April 15, 2024



PESHAWAR:

In developed nations across the globe, a comprehensive immunisation program is key to preventing childhood diseases and ensuring a healthier future generation however, in Pakistan’s northern province, a lack of manpower and resources for carrying forth the vaccination campaign against the recent measles outbreak, has left many parents worried for the health of their little ones.

One such parent is Bakhtwar Gul from South Waziristan, who shared his anxieties for his children’s health following the recent measles outbreak in Khyber-Pakhtunkha (K-P) which has claimed the lives of 14 innocent children so far.

“In our area, no vaccinators are normally available to administer the measles vaccine to our children. Whenever an outbreak occurs, the Extended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) sends a mobile team for a small duration but throughout the year no such efforts are made,” revealed Gul.

In his defence, Hasan Ali, an EPI vaccinator claimed that for several days, the EPI vaccinators were in protest. “The government only allocates Rs300 for our monthly fuel expenses. We have to travel to risky terrains which are miles away and such a small amount of money can hardly buy one litre of petrol. Moreover, the government also does not give us risk allowances and other resources to facilitate routine immunisation,” regretted Ali, who urged the government to assist vaccinators so that a significant percentage of the target population can be immunised.

According to Dr Muhammad Hussain, President of the Pakistan Paediatric Association KP- Chapter, measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world since every infected person can spread the virus to as many as 18 other people. “This airborne virus stays in the atmosphere for up to two hours after an infected person has left the room and can hence spread rapidly through homes, schools, clinics and hospitals. Unfortunately, the vaccination rate against measles in Pakistan is less than 60 per cent,” disclosed Dr Hussain, who further added that the measles vaccination should be administered to all children under 5 years of age.

Read also: Measles claims over 13 lives in K-P

Expanding on Dr Hussain’s postulations, Dr Hamid Bangash, a paediatrician opined that the government must aim to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of children through its routine immunisation against measles.

“Vaccines are the only way to reduce the severity of the disease, which causes rashes to appear on the child’s skin, 7 to 18 days after exposure to the virus. Alongside rashes, a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes are also common symptoms, while in the most severe cases, death can also occur,” warned Dr Bangash, who urged the government to resolve the issues faced by the EPI vaccinators in order to strengthen the program.

As per sources from the K-P Health Department, this is not the first time the EPI has landed under scrutiny for its fruitless handling of the measles vaccination campaign since even during the Covid-19 pandemic, EPI vaccinators were unable to carry on the measles vaccine drive due to their newly assigned duty of administering the Covid-19 vaccine. As a result, 50 per cent of the target children were missed from routine immunisation during the pandemic.

According to sources obtained by the Express Tribune from the EPI, a total of 3,538 cases of measles affecting children between the ages of two to five are suspected in K-P, out of which 1,236 have been confirmed in areas like D. I. Khan, Tank, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, North and South Waziristan, Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera and Swat. Furthermore, during the first quarter of 2024, 26,725 children have been vaccinated in response to the outbreak while an additional 200,000 children were given the measles vaccination during the Intensified Outreach Activity.

Speaking to the Express Tribune on the matter, Dr Muhammad Arif Khan, Director of EPI K-P said, “The EPI has forwarded the request to extend the travel expenses of outreach vaccinators, but they were declined due to a shortage of resources and funds. A special initiative called ‘Big Catch-up’ is underway in Jun 2024 for bridging the immunity gap in children older than 23 months.”

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