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KENYA: Campaign to contain measles outbreak in northeast

A child is vaccinated against measles (file photo): At least 30 cases of measles have been reported in Fafi, in Kenya's Northeastern Province
NAIROBI, 10 August 2009 (IRIN) - At least 30 cases of measles have been reported in Fafi District in northeastern Kenya in the past six weeks, a health official said. An outbreak was also reported in Dadaab refugee camps housing thousands of Somali refugees.

"Already, there is a mop-up campaign going on in the affected areas," Shahnaaz Sharif, acting director of public health, told IRIN.

Such campaigns involve door-to-door immunization in high-risk districts where the virus is suspected still to be circulating. A nationwide vaccination campaign is planned for September.

"The measles outbreak in 2006 started with five un-immunized children from Somalia and it spread throughout the country," Sharif said. A campaign was carried out after that outbreak – conducted every three years.

"Because young children are the worst affected by measles, all parents/guardians with children aged between nine months and five years who have never received the measles vaccination are requested to take their children to the nearest immunizing health facility anywhere in the country for vaccination," the Health Ministry said last week.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, which mostly affects children and is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.

Initial symptoms include a cold and fever, followed by a fine red rash. There is no specific treatment but most people recover within two to three weeks.

In malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can lead to blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infections and pneumonia.

In July, the International Rescue Committee launched an emergency measles vaccination campaign targeting thousands of refugee children in Hagadera camp, Dadaab, to contain an outbreak.

Hagadera is one of Dadaab's three refugee sites, which house at least 284,306 refugees as of 5 July. This is triple Dadaab's capacity.

According to aid agencies, the overcrowded camps have become breeding grounds for disease because there is no reception centre to screen new arrivals.