SINCE August 29, 2022, government has been conducting a special vaccination blitz against measles, targeting between six-month-old and five-year-old children.
The exercise is supposed to end this Saturday and so far, about 623 810 children have been vaccinated against a target population of 2 317 522 children, thus representing 26,9% of the target.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease which leads to many deaths among young children globally despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.
While vaccination has drastically reduced global measles deaths, a 73% drop between 2000 and 2018 worldwide, measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia.
More than 140 000 people died of measles in 2018. The number of deaths went up to 207 000 in 2019 and that is unpalatable news to hear.
The overwhelming majority of those who die of measles are from countries with low per capita incomes and weak healthcare infrastructure.
Countries that top measles outbreaks in the world include Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Liberia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, DRC, Indonesia and Ivory Coast.
The World Health Organisation raised alarm in April 2022 about Africa having an implosion of preventable diseases due to delays in vaccination. Measles cases jumped by at least 400%.
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The cumulative number of measles cases in Zimbabwe has risen to over 6 000, with around 698 deaths as per September 5 since April 2022, a figure that sends chills down our spines.
It is unfortunate that many children are succumbing to the viral disease when the country has done all it can to contain the virus.
Although COVID-19 slowed anti-measles campaigns between 2020 and early 2022, our country remained on high alert to contain the dreaded measles outbreak.
The immunisation programmes never stopped even during the hot peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everyone has to be knowledgable about measles which can present first with high fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes usually seven to 14 days after being exposed to the virus, then a rash can appear two to three days later that usually starts as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet.
The white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth two to three days later.
This calls for vigilance from everyone in the country if we are to successfully stem the viral disease.
Complications are more in those below five years of age and those that are above the age of 20 years.
Zimbabwe should not relax in the face of the outbreak of the viral disease that is still threatening many children.
The unvaccinated children are at higher risk if the spread is not contained.
Many factors seem to be behind the sluggish uptake of the measles vaccines despite all the efforts that government is putting to tackle the further spread of measles.
Anti-disease campaigners have faced challenges when dealing with some religious sects that do not believe in Western medicines which they see as taboo to their survival.
This seems calamitous considering the need to fight contemporary health issues that are threatening the global village.
Vaccine hesitancy is still a big challenge and the world should stem conspiracy theories that are at the fore-front of both misinformation and disinformation.
The following measures can be taken if we are to reduce measles mortality:
lMore resources should be channelled towards accelerated measles vaccinations for the involved healthcare workers, acquiring, storage and transportation of the vaccines. Shortages of the vaccines should never be tolerated.
lEngaging traditional and faith leaders in order to garner their support in the vaccination drive.
Most of the seriously affected children are unvaccinated children.
Special attention should be given to the Apostolic sects where vigorous health education should be done.
No one should skip the measles vaccinations if the country is to be successful.
The complications that arise from measles are frightening and these can include blindness, pneumonia, encephalitis, ear infections, severe diarrhoea, vomiting and resultant dehydration.
lA special legislation can be enacted to make it mandatory for every child to be vaccinated against all the documented killer diseases that are in the country.
This measure will surely stimulate or coerce parents or guardians to take their children for vaccinations.
lRobust case management should be done with diagnoses being done quickly. Measles is mainly diagnosed clinically, although polymerase chain reaction tests can be done to get a tentative diagnosis.
Supportive care, which includes intravenous fluids administration, fever control and Vitamin A should be considered.
It should be sooner than later when action is taken to contain the measles outbreak as we may lose many children in the coming few days.
Encourage all unvaccinated babies to get the measles immunisations if they are due for them.