Health authorities in Guinea are scrambling to contain a measles outbreak that has killed one child, infected 37 others and spread to half of the country’s 33 districts.
More than 400 suspected cases, nearly all of them in children under 10 years old, have been registered. A vaccination campaign targeting over 1.6 million children is to be launched in the coming weeks.
“We have moved from three affected districts in Conakry before the end of last year to the whole city now being affected. Five more districts out of Conakry are also affected. It means that it could spread throughout the country,” said Felix Ackebo, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) deputy representative for Guinea.
“One of the causes is the nature of the disease. The other is the social/political instability. Many bilateral donors stopped support, awaiting the holding of legislative elections. The whole health system has been weakened. The government was restricted on what it could purchase, and this affected [availability of] vaccines and other important drugs. Many of the basic social services have suffered from this pause in investment,” Ackebo told IRIN. “In the past, we have been obliged to buy measles vaccines and others because the government could not.”
Only 37 percent of Guinean children are fully vaccinated, according to the 2012 Demographic Health Survey. The country’s last measles epidemic, in 2009, infected 4,755 people and killed 10.
Keita Sakoba, head of disease prevention at the Ministry of Health, said that the current stock of measles vaccine, meant for routine immunization, was insufficient for the vaccination drive. He explained that the outbreak was likely due to the accumulation of unvaccinated children.
“We will launch a vaccination campaign in the 15 affected districts and carry out targeted immunizations in districts neighbouring the affected ones,” Sakoba said.