Officials voiced fears on Friday that as many as 21,000 children could contract measles by the year’s end. Already, some 2,143 confirmed cases of measles have been reported across the country.
According to documents provided to The Express Tribune, a majority of confirmed cases were reported from Sindh.
A total of 737 were reported from Sindh, followed by 648 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 582 cases from Punjab, 102 from Balochistan, 49 from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and 14 cases from Islamabad.
An official who requested anonymity told The Express Tribune, that he works closely with The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). He said that these cases were reported to the EPI and samples were received at the National Institute of Health (NIH). The official added that it is estimated that the figure of confirmed cases is double of what has been reported. Officials believe measles remains underreported by most provinces/districts.
“This underreporting, better known as hidden measles cases, usually results in an outbreak of the disease and claims many innocent lives. Unfortunately, many do not understand this,” he said.
However, the documents also showed that in the past, many districts reported very high coverage of measles vaccination and their coverage figures were blindly endorsed by the provincial offices. Subsequently, it was found that the reports provided by the provinces were exaggerated. It further stated that now, the Federal EPI ministry is ready to resume a measles follow-up campaign in the remaining districts. Considering the recent outbreaks and surveillance data, the agencies of Fata and districts of Balochistan have been prioritised. Unicef has secured vaccines for these districts/agencies and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has agreed to provide the operational cost.
“Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and spreads very fast. If one child has the virus, he can infect others very easily. If cases are reported immediately then it becomes easy to control the spread of the virus. Measles accounts for one in every five childhood deaths among diseases preventable by vaccine,” the official said.
The official added that a major contributing factor to recent cases of measles were poor routine immunisation practices in the country. “If the routine immunisation went according to schedule then I bet there would be no need to run national measles campaigns,” he said. “Officials who are supposed to ensure routine immunisation are not paying much attention to it and the vaccinators are underpaid.”
Pakistan remains one of the most important countries worldwide for measles elimination activities. The WHO estimates that every year approximately 2.1 million children are infected with measles in Pakistan.
When contacted, programme manager of EPI Dr Zahid Larik said the federal government is providing an ample amount of logistical support and vaccination to all provinces. “It is their duty to ensure routine immunisation to each and every child in their region and to protect them from such a fatal disease,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2012.
More in PakistanLuring voters: End to power cuts likely 3 months before polls