More than 30 children have died during the past 20 days of measles in upper Sindh. The villages of Salehpat, including Sobo Mahar, Masoo Dhondho, Tarai and Gagro, are the worst affected.
The Executive District Officer (EDO) of Health, Dr Jay Ram Das, told The Express Tribune that cases were reported in Khairpur a month ago, and it spread to Sukkur later. Teams from the health department have vaccinated more than 6,532 children.
Ten children passed away in Kandhkot recently but some of the deaths were from high fever and pneumonia, and not measles. According to the EDO, teams from the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund visited some villages in Kandhkot and took 135 samples. These samples were analysed in Islamabad and only nine tested positive for measles. Teams have been facing resistance from some parents. The villagers adhere to Hindu beliefs which state that a goddess enters the child during this period and using medicine may offend her. They believe that she would leave the child’s body on her own, and the child only needs to abstain from wearing red or eating red meat. Specific bhajans are also sung to the affected child.
Dr Jay Ram Das criticised the prevalence of old customs and methods of treatment in villages. He said that some people didn’t even know the difference between a qualified doctor and a quack. He also advised that parents should not hide their children during visits from the vaccination teams or take them to hakims.
Earlier, parents in Khairpur district refused medical help for measles believing that the disease was a test of faith.
These Muslim families believe strongly in the Hindu mythology that the high fever and the red spots are signs that goddess Mata Rani has taken over the body of the children. Due to this, the parents did not allow the doctors provide vaccinations to their children. According to Thari Mir Wah Taluka Hospital superintendent Dr Qurban Sahito, the people in far flung areas still adhere to old customs and beliefs of the Hindu mythology even though most of them are Muslims, he explained, adding that they spend five to seven days chanting songs to appease the goddess after which the child health is restored.
Explaining the ritual, a resident of Thul, Mukhi Baksho Mal, explained that when Mata Rani takes over a child, he/she should be treated very politely. During the stay of the goddess, the child should not be given any kind of meat or fish and only served vegetables and boiled rice. The families also sing hyms to appease Mata Rani. Mal also explained that Hindus avoid giving medicines to children suffering from measles and prefer using their faith during the healing process.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2012.