"Hundreds” dead in measles outbreak

A measles outbreak has killed at least 200 children in Nigeria in recent weeks according to health workers and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Nigerian Red Cross is sending teams to affected cities in northern Nigeria to train volunteers and educate communities about prevention, according to a 13 December report by the IFRC, which contained the estimate of deaths.

Hundreds more children are infected, with cases in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, according to Mahmud Mustapha, director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in charge of seven north-western states.

“Conservatively the death toll in this outbreak may exceed 200 across the city [of Zaria in Kaduna state] because one needs to go round to hospitals to grasp how bad the situation is,” Murjanatu Saminu, a nurse at Tudun Wada maternity hospital in Zaria, told IRIN.

“The situation is alarming because the number of measles cases being brought to this hospital is just unbelievable,” she said. “We receive at least 17 cases a day.”

Apart from causing death, measles is a major cause of blindness among children in Africa and has the potential to damage the brain, leading to deafness and paralysis.

Counting the cost

In a teaching hospital in northern Kano state, one health worker said at least 20 cases were being seen daily. But the true number of cases is probably higher, said Haladu Sani, a pediatrician. “A number of parents do not bring their infected children to hospital but stay at home and resort to traditional medication.”

However a local government health official said the death count has been exaggerated. “People here have a penchant for inflating figures when outbreaks like this happen,” said Aminu Gidado, Zaria health coordinator. He said “scores of children died”, not hundreds.

The United Nations announced in late November that in Africa deaths from measles – a potentially deadly but preventable disease – decreased by 91 percent between 2000 and 2006. UN said the drop has been due largely to governments’ vaccination efforts. But UN Children’s Fund head, Ann Veneman, said the illness is still killing nearly 600 under-five children around the world every day.

Response

The Kaduna health ministry has sent health workers with 8,000 doses of measles vaccination to Zaria, health coordinator Gidado said.

Kano health officials have started a massive education campaign with radio jingles and announcements, calling on parents to have their children vaccinated. The national primary health agency’s Mustapha says the agency plans to do house-to-house vaccinations in January 2008.

The measles virus is spread by coughing and sneezing or close personal contact, according to the World Health Organization. Immunisation efforts suffered major setbacks in northern Nigeria in recent years when some religious leaders called into question ‘western’ medicine and vaccination campaigns.

Immunisation

After a serious measles outbreak in Nigeria in early 2005, the government primary health care agency did a house-to-house vaccination campaign throughout northern Nigeria. But some health workers say following the intensive campaign parents failed to continue taking children to hospital as needed for regular vaccinations.

Health officials in northern Nigeria say measles is re-emerging because many parents are not getting their children vaccinated.

“The main reason for its resurgence is low level of immunisation,” said Kabir Maso-Kano, pediatric consultant at the largest government-run hospital in Kano. “And parents are to blame for that because they do not care to immunise their children anymore.”

He said “nothing short of” proper immunisation will work to prevent such outbreaks.

The IFRC report on the latest outbreak said, “Due to poor hygiene and sanitation conditions as well as the non acceptance of routine immunisation, the situation has exacerbated.”

aa/np/nr