Several people are perched on the stairs and dozens more stand in a queue at the reception to get a registration slip (parchi). Paramedics rush children into various directions. The sound of wailing from a corner attracts everyone’s attention to a group of men and women clustered around the body of a child who has just died of measles. This is the Paediatric Ward at Mayo Hospital.
“The ward has witnessed many heart rending scenes in the past few weeks,” says a doctor. Many patients pass away in the Emergency Ward every day but watching children die from a preventable disease like measles is depressing even for doctors, he says. “Most parents think their child will not succumb to such a disease, but that has happened several times here this week,” he continues.
Over 10,000 cases of measles have been reported in the Punjab since January. As many as 40 children died of the disease at the Mayo Hospital since.
“During an epidemic like this one, it is absolutely imperative that children, who have received two shots of the measles vaccine, get an additional dose,” says Dr Kamran, a paediatric consultant.
“I brought my three year-old here. He had fallen ill two days ago and has passed away,” says Muhammad Ashraf, a parent, “I haven’t gotten my elder son vaccinated again as I do not know how to get him an extra dose of the medicine.”
Many parents worry about this. Abul Rehman, whose daughter has died of measles, says, “I don’t want others to lose their children the way I did mine. The government must immediately start an immunisation campaign and administer shots to children whose siblings have contracted the disease.”
A consultant at the Children’s Hospital says, “All children who come in contact with those with measles should be given an additional vaccine dose. Health Department however, does not have enough vaccine.”
A professor at the Children’s Hospital says the epidemic could have been averted if the authorities had taken proper measures on time. “Measles cases started coming in two years ago. We wrote to the Health Department for a broad immunisation campaign, but they ignored us. Since January this year it has turned into an epidemic.”
The Health Department, he says, had been focusing on dengue fever. “You can’t kill all the mosquitoes but a vaccination campaign could have immunised up to 98 per cent of all children to measles. Almost 90 per cent of the children being brought to hospitals have not been vaccinated. I have not seen a measles epidemic this bad in the 34 years of my service,” he said.
Health Secretary Arif Nadeem says an immunisation week will be observed from April 24 to 30 in Punjab, during which vaccination will be carried out at all health centres against several diseases including measles.
High Dependency Units
The Health Department says several HDUs have been established in public hospitals to treat measles patients.
“An HDU should have cardiac monitors and a ventilator for each bed. However, we have only one pot of oxygen for two beds,” says a paediatrician at the Jinnah Hospital.
Several professors express annoyance with the inaccessibility of Health Special Secretary Babar Hayat Tarar, under training at the National Institute of Public Administration. “He is engaged there from 9am to 4pm… and has been unable to perform his duties,” a professor says.
Tarar denies this. He says he has been performing his duties even if it meant he had to work well into the night. “I don’t have to administer injections. I attend all meetings and perform all my duties. I am not the only health official attending a course. Four secretaries and many officers are attending Staff College courses without leaving charge… they are mandatory,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2013.