The Kenyan government is set to conduct a "mop-up" vaccination campaign against measles following an outbreak of the disease in several areas of the country.
Director of Public Health and Sanitation Shahnaaz Sharif said the number of confirmed cases of measles in the country had grown from 665 in 2011 to 767 by 25 September 2012. At least 32 children under age five have died of the disease since the outbreak began in January of last year.
The first case was reported at a refugee camp in northern Kenya; the disease soon spread to the country's Eastern Province, where it has been reported in 45 out of 47 counties.
"Only Marsabit and Lamu counties have not reported any cases of measles, but children in these regions will also be immunized," Sharif told IRIN.
During the campaign, which is set for 3 to 7 November, health officials will target some six million children across the country, at a cost of US$ 5.2 million. Half the cost will be met by the government, while partners, including the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), will meet the rest.
The campaign will reach children between nine and 59 months old with measles vaccines and vitamin A supplements. In north-eastern Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, immunizations will reach children between ages six months and 15 years, as levels of immunization in their native Somalia remain low and many may not have been vaccinated in early childhood.
Children in Kenya’s North Eastern Province will additionally receive the oral polio vaccine because many Somali refugees in the area are believed to have not received it in infancy.
An estimated 15 percent of children in Kenya miss out on measles vaccinations every year.
According to Ian Njeru, the Ministry of Health's head of disease surveillance and response, parents say the long distances between their homes and health centres is a major deterrent to getting children vaccinated.
"Most of such complaints came from Northern Kenya and areas of East Pokot [in the Rift Valley Province]," he said.
Other reasons for missing out on immunizations include complaints of long queues at hospitals and religious beliefs.
Njeru said the ministry was working with leaders of religious sects such as Kanitha wa Ngai (Kikuyu for ‘Church of God’), Kavonokyi (Kamba for ‘Savior’) and others that have urged followers to reject conventional medicine, including vaccination.
Since the outbreak of the disease, the government has conducted several smaller mop-up campaigns, the most recent one in September, held in 14 districts in Rift Valley and Eastern provinces. Sharif said 74 percent of the 432,831 targeted children were vaccinated.
The government, he said, was also working to provide the measles inoculation twice during immunization campaigns to boost the strength of the vaccine, which weakens as children grow.
Sharif advised parents to look out for pneumonia, diarrhoea and flu as they may have been caused by measles infection. "About 30 percent of measles cases can lead to several complications such as pneumonia (5 percent of cases) ear infections (up to 8 percent of cases), and encephalitis (up to 0.1 percent)," he said.