A deadly measles outbreak in Sindh has left at least 87 people dead in the month of December alone. Nine children were counted among the latest fatalities which occurred between Friday and Saturday.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, the health secretary is visiting different areas where more children have reportedly contracted the virus. Reports from different districts claim approximately 110 deaths during the month of December, but the health secretary has only confirmed 87 during the same period.
Several international news agencies have estimated that the outbreak had killed up to 193 children this year in Sindh. Provincial Health Minister Dr Saghir Ahmed has confirmed 1,235 existing cases of measles and 56 deaths due to the virus across the province.
According to reports gathered from different parts of Upper Sindh, including Sukkur, Ghotki, Kandhkot, Thul and Tangwani, nine children have lost their lives due to the measles virus in the last 24 hours.
Reports say the viral infection is wreaking havoc in the districts of Sukkur, Ghotki, Shikarpur, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Larkana and Qamber-Shahdadkot. However, the most affected taluka of Sukkur is Salehpat, where more than 30 children have reportedly died from the virus.
Sukkur’s Blood and Drugs Donating Society has moved forward to help children affected by measles and established an isolation ward in Sukkur hospital, where 10 children are currently admitted.
The society’s chairman, Dr Muhammad Naeem, told The Express Tribune that 12 children were brought in from Salehpat, out of which two had been discharged and the remaining 10 are being treated by a paediatrician. He added that all the patients are being provided free medical treatment.
“We are focusing on each and every affected area, including Salehpat,” Executive District Officer (EDO) of Health Sukkur, Dr Jay Ram Das, told The Express Tribune. “Earlier we used to vaccinate children between the infancy to 5 years, but now we are vaccinating children up to the age of 10.”
He said beds have been provided to the basic health unit in Salehpat, and that child specialists have also been posted there to provide better treatment. All the required vaccinations, medicines and oxygen have been made available at the unit as well, according to Das.
Health Secretary Dr Aftab Ahmed Khatri told The Express Tribune that during his trip to different villages in Salehpat he observed that most of the children in the area were underweight and malnourished. He also said that he visited one home where eight affected children were sleeping in the same room, explaining why the virus had spread so quickly.
Khatri also complained that a majority of parents are still reluctant to let the doctors examine their ailing children, as they fear the wrath of Hindu goddess Mata Rani. Even Muslim families in the area were swayed by the Hindu mythology that high fever and red spots associated with measles were signs that goddess Mata Rani has taken over the body of the children. Due to this, the parents do not allow the doctors to provide vaccinations to their children, preferring to use their faith to heal the child.
Khatri appealed to residents of the area to bring their children to the nearest health facility as soon as indications of measles begin to appear.
He emphasised that the disease is curable and that timely treatment can save many precious lives. He also said that he had discovered that most of the deaths occurred due to post-measles complications including pneumonia, respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea.
Health minister’s report
According to an official handout, the provincial health minister said an anti-measles vaccination drive has been launched in seven districts of the province during which 130,004 children have been vaccinated thus far.
He added that more than 20 camps have been set up in the province, where health secretary Aftab Khatri and DG Health Feroze Memon are supervising the vaccination process personally.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2012.