Measles contracted in very early childhood is a killer. Measles contracted during pregnancy can lead to a child being born blind or deaf or both, or severely mentally handicapped. Measles is preventable by vaccination and the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine was developed in 1971 and is now used globally. Pakistan should not have a measles problem. Six children are reported to have died in the Kalat and Pishin areas of Balochistan in the last three days, another four in Gizag also in Kalat. Two children had earlier died in Zhob and another in Quetta. Health workers report that they were unable to gain access to the areas because of the volatile security situation.
The local administration is admitting that the areas the vaccinators want to visit are ‘no-go’ and the provincial deputy coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) is warning — yet again — that more children will die if the immunisation programme does not go ahead. It is not just security or the lack of it that bedevils the vaccinators, it is the federal government that stopped funding the measles campaign in 2013 with the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment, and the provincial government failing to authorise a budget for its continuance. Public health is in crisis across Balochistan. According to the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2012-13, a mere 16 per cent of children in Balochistan are immunised against nine common childhood diseases. The focus on the polio eradication programme has been to the detriment of many other health programmes, with measles and tuberculosis both negatively affected. Measles is a seasonal affliction and the fact that it has broken out again is indicative of earlier failures in the immunisation programme. Once again children are dying needlessly. They are dying of poor or laggardly bureaucracy, fiscal ineptitude and a lack of organisational capacity at the provincial level. Measles, like polio, has Pakistan at its mercy.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2014.
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