Measles outbreak in Dhading , two years after district declared fully immunisedA medical team found that none of the children in Soldanda village was vaccinated against the disease.
Mithu Maiya Chepang of Dhading was infected with measles last week. The seven-year-old from Soldanda village in Benighat Rorang Municipality was the first child to be infected with the deadly virus ever since Dhading was declared a fully immunised district two years ago.
Soon after Mithu was diagnosed, 27 other children in Soldanda were also found to be infected with measles.
When a health team from the immunisation section of Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services reached the affected villages, it found out, to their surprise, that none of the children in Soldanda was immunised.
“We were also astonished to learn that none of the children had been immunised,” Shankar Duwadi,
health coordinator of the Benighat Rorang Municipality, told the Post over the phone. “Our entire district, including Benighat Rorang Municipality, was declared fully immunised two years ago.”
The health team comprising experts from the World Health Organization had collected blood samples from the infected children and sent them to the National Public Health Laboratory for examination, which confirmed measles positive in the ailing children.
Following the confirmation of the virus, the immunisation section sent its team to the village and immunised all the children.
Dhading district was declared fully immunised two years ago amid an event in which leaders from all political parties and senior bureaucrats from the Ministry of Health and Population were invited.
“Outbreak of deadly diseases in a district declared fully immunised raises questions about the authenticity of claims made by our government agencies,” said Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, a former director of the Child Health Division.”Without developing a system that ensures none of the children misses vaccines, this type of outbreaks won’t stop.”
Of the 77 districts across the country, 58 districts including Dhading had been declared fully immunised, which effectively means that none of the children under the age of 15 months has missed out on any of the routine vaccines.
“Only declaring fully immunised districts without ensuring its sustainability raises a false sense of security,” said Upreti. ‘Full immunisation never happens, as the babies get born throughout the year. The government should ensure there’s a mechanism through which no child misses the vaccines.”
Measles is a contagious viral disease transmitted through fluids from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.
According to Upreti, the health ministry has not evaluated the effectiveness of its fully immunised declarations. In fact, concerned health agencies and the political leadership have stopped giving priority to the designated goals after their declaration of a district as fully immunised.
Health experts say, low vaccination coverage, floating population, lack of public awareness about the importance of vaccines and apathy on the part of concerned government agencies are some of the reasons behind regular outbreaks of measles in different parts of the country.
Last year, too, measles outbreaks were reported in several districts including Kapilvastu and Dang, where the level of awareness about the importance of regular immunisation is very low.
In case of Soldanda, too, most people were unaware about the importance of vaccination.
“Each family has over five children and we found that none of the children has been vaccinated,” Duwadi said.
The children had missed the vaccnine despite the government launching measles-rubella drive once every four years.
“We suspect that the health workers deployed in the villages did not meet the children, as the Chepang children usually accompany their parents to work,” Duwadi said.
The health ministry started the first phase of its measles-rubella nationwide campaign in Province 1,2 and 5 from February 13, which will continue until March 13. The second phase will be conducted from March 14 to April 14 in provinces 3, 4, 6 and 7. All children under five years of age will be immunised during the campaign.
Measles was endemic in Nepal and on average, 90,000 cases were recorded every year, from 1994 to 2004. The government launched a routine measles vaccination programme in the country in the late 1980s. Still, measles continues to stalk many children across the country.