The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in their latest report said that Afghanistan is the third highest country in measles cases, after Somalia and Yemen.
“To prevent outbreaks of this disease there should be immunization campaigns every three years, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic these nationwide campaigns were interrupted and we have seen an increasing number of unimmunized vulnerable children and therefore a surge recently in measles cases. There is an urgent need for a nationwide measles campaign,” said Sam Mort, chief of communication for UNICEF Afghanistan.
The WHO and UNICEF in it is report said that worldwide measles cases increased by 79 percent in the first two months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.
Based on the WHO and UNICEF reports, an increase in measles cases in January and February 2022 is a sign of heightened risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and could trigger larger outbreaks, particularly of measles affecting millions of children in 2022, warn the WHO and UNICEF.
“Pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” the report reads.
According to the report, the risk for large outbreaks has increased as communities relax social distancing practices and other preventive measures for COVID-19 implemented during the height of the pandemic. In addition, with millions of people being displaced due to conflicts and crises including in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan, disruptions in routine immunization and COVID-19 vaccination services, lack of clean water and sanitation, and overcrowding increase the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.
“Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021. As measles is very contagious, cases tend to show up quickly when vaccination levels decline. The agencies are concerned that outbreaks of measles could also forewarn outbreaks of other diseases that do not spread as rapidly,” the report reads.
Meanwhile, officials at the Ministry of Public Health are concerned about the increase in the number of children with measles, stating that in the last four months, 36,613 cases of measles have been registered in the country, from which 247 children have died.
“From January to April, the graph of measles was increasing day by day and monthly, so that in January we had about 5,446 cases, but in February we had 7,891 cases and in March 11,808,” said Javid Hajir, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.
Doctors at the Indira Gandhi Children Hospital say that in April alone, 600 measles cases have been registered at the hospital.
“Our concern is that people should get their vaccines and stay away from places that cause illness,” said Mohibullah, a doctor at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital.
TOLOnews spoke to families of patients who have come to the hospital.
“We stayed at home for a week, then his condition worsened, so again we came here. It’s been about 45 days now. The doctors said that he would be treated,” said Khair Mohammad, a resident of Kabul.
The Ministry of Public Health said that in the first two months of 2022, one million two million children in 49 districts in 24 provinces received measles vaccine and another three million children will be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the plan is for more than 1.2 million children aged 6-59 months to be vaccinated during the ongoing measles vaccination campaign in Afghanistan.
“This measles immunization campaign is part of the national response measure to stop the spread of the outbreak, save lives of the young children and reduce the burden on health systems,” said Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Afghanistan.
According to WHO, around 9,200 health workers, volunteers, supervisors, and monitors are mobilized to cover 49 districts in 24 provinces in a week-long campaign scheduled 12 – 17 March 2022.
The WHO Representative in Afghanistan askes every parent to bring their kids for vaccination.
“I appeal to every parent to bring your kids for vaccination and give them the best gift of being protected from life-threatening but preventable disease. I also appeal to everyone to protect the health workers; they are protecting your children and it is your duty to ensure their safety,” said Dr Luo Dapeng.
Measles is an extremely contagious viral disease. Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk. Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by other diseases, the report said.
The best way to protect people – especially children – from measles is to strengthen routine immunization to ensure that at least 95% of their population has received two doses of the vaccine, said WHO.—Tolonews