Due to a breakdown of basic health services and security, a large number of children in North Waziristan Agency have fallen prey to a recent spread of measles. In response to the increase in the number of cases and deaths, locals have appealed for assistance and a prompt outbreak-response vaccination campaign in the militancy-hit region.
“The outbreak has become an epidemic as approximately 65 per cent of the children in Birmal, Shawal and Datta Khel sub-districts of North Waziristan are suffering from this fatal disease,” said Dr Muhammad Ali, a paediatrician and medical superintendent at the Agency Headquarters Hospital, Miranshah.
He said that over the past week, more than 10 children have died of Measles pneumonitis – a severe condition of measles transformed into pneumonia. “Around 70 such children are admitted to the hospital daily,” Dr Ali said.
He said that the first case of measles was reported on April 15, and it spread to other parts of the agency claiming hundreds of lives.
He explained that measles is a viral disease, especially prevalent among children less than seven years of age who are malnourished. “We are struggling to save their lives as people are facing difficulties in feeding their children.”
He said that a large number of these children were shifted to the hospital from the war-torn Mirali and Shawal sub-districts, but they could not be treated till the clashes and curfew had ended. “All units in the lone health facility [in those areas] were closed for all sorts of patients except those who are injured during clashes,” he said.
Dr Ali said that they have stored vaccines for this purpose but the stock has expired due to prolonged power outages. “The vaccines needed to be kept in a controlled temperature but that was not possible since electricity remained suspended in Miranshah for the last three days. Also, the hospital generator was shifted to the wards treating the wounded,” he said.
Abidullah, who works at the hospital, told The Express Tribune that scores of ailing children had been admitted. “Doctors are only treating injured people and the hospital is running short of space for other patients, including these children.”
Roz Muhammad, an accountant at the hospital, said that they have registered nearly 700 children.
Dr Sadiq, a paediatrician said that people only admit their children when their disease gets out of control. Otherwise, he said, they try to treat them on their own. “But they lack proper facilities to combat the disease. Dearth of vaccines and bad law and order are the main hurdles in proper treatment of these children.”
He said that all the medical staff was occupied in operation theatres, performing surgeries. “In a situation like this, when hundreds of injured persons are being admitted, we are unable to look into measles’ cases”.
Azmat Khan Dawar, a resident of Shahzad Kot in Datta Khel sub-district, said that his two-year-old daughter was suffering from measles. “Despite the deteriorating condition of my daughter, I was unable to take her to the hospital due to a curfew,” he said.
His daughter has recovered now, but many other children have fallen prey.
Local tribesmen lamented that scarcity of vaccines has worsened the situation despite the fact that 56 mobile teams were deputed by the hospital to vaccinate children across the agency.
Hospital administration officials said that mobile teams visited every nook and corner to administer vaccines to the children. “In Mirali and Speen Waam sub-districts, we were unable to carry out immunisation due to inaccessibility,” they said.
Inayatullah, a tribesman from Miranshah, said that all children in the agency must be immunised. “An annual campaign should be launched against measles similar to that for polio,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.