Not measles-free after allImmunisation drives lose credibility due to premature celebrations.
News of a measles outbreak in Dhading has brought forth a troubling situation. To begin with, the children that are affected need immediate attention. Essential steps need to be taken to immunise and protect others, as the disease carries serious risks including potential death. But what is equally important is to hold the authorities concerned to account; Dhading, after all, was declared measles-free and fully immunised two years ago.
Measles is a very dangerous disease. In the least, it leaves those affected with rashes and high fever. At worst, especially for those under five years and those above 30—and those compromised by other diseases—contracting measles can be terminal. It was the dangers connected to this disease that brought in a global response and an attempt to eradicate it. In order to increase the effectiveness of vaccination, a vaccine called MMR (featuring components that simultaneously immunised recipients against measles, mumps and rubella) was developed. This vaccine is in use all around the world and is highly effective.
Between 2010 and 2018, it has been estimated that the MMR vaccine saved 23.2 million people from death, making the application of this vaccine an instant positive for any health and welfare system. Yet, even though there has been widespread adoption, myths surrounding the vaccine’s side-effects, religious problems and faulty reporting have contributed to a recent upsurge of measles. In 2018 alone, 140,000 people are thought to have died after contracting measles—most of them children.
Mithu Maiya Chepang, a seven-year-old from Dhading, was the first to be identified as being infected last week. After her, 27 other children were found to be contaminated. If the district was indeed immunised completely two years ago, the chances of such a rampant surge in infections would be slim. It is obvious that the health authorities failed in achieving complete immunisation. And therein lies the problem. For immunisation drives to be successful, a large part of any target population has to be vaccinated. This provides fewer chances for transmission among humans in the target geography. Moreover, thorough immunisation leaves fewer bodies for the disease-causing bacteria or viruses to incubate and evolve in.
In this recent measles outbreak, it is clear that the concerned failed to immunise the number of people they claimed to have done. This kind of faulty reporting can cause a multitude of problems—the major one being the lack of preparedness for containment and cure, resulting in potential death. It also raises questions on the credibility of other such supposedly immunised areas. In the case of measles, 58 districts out of 77 in the country have been declared fully immunised. But if the outbreak has occurred in Dhading, it can occur in any of the other 57 districts too.
When the concerned authorities declare public health successes in a grand fashion, as they did so in Dhading two years ago, the people learn to trust the authorities. They buy into the fact that getting painful and inconveniencing vaccine injections will minimise the risks of contracting a deadly disease. But when such campaigns lose credibility due to premature celebrations and a resurgence of the disease, it may become harder for health officials to successfully pull off another immunisation drive. The concerned should take care. Vaccination and immunisation are an important aspect of improving the lives and the health of any population. But there must be sincerity in reporting. Otherwise, an outbreak like the current measles one can blindside the public health system.
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