Measles kills 32 children in Abyan
ABYAN - Measles has claimed the lives of over 32 children in Lawder, in the southern Yemeni governorate of Abyan, since September, according to doctors.
Despite free vaccinations, children are still dying from the disease in the area due to low awareness among parents, a shortage of medical staff, power cuts that spoil the vaccines, and vaccination teams being stopped at armed check points, according to Dr. Ali Majhar, director of vaccination and prevention in Abyan.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, which affects mostly children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There is no specific treatment for measles and most people recover within two to three weeks.
But in malnourished children, measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia.
In Abyan, up to 25 percent of households are food insecure, according to a 2010 World Food Programme (WFP) survey.
Measles can be prevented by immunization, but in Lawder, according Dr. Majhar, medical teams who want to reach remote villages are also impeded in their job by road blocks set up by armed Islamists.
“Sometimes when I go to some areas with my colleagues to provide the vaccine, I am stopped and questioned by armed Islamists,” said Al-Majhar.
Prolonged power cuts have also caused serious damage to the vaccines themselves, as the small refrigerators they are kept in stop working when there is no electricity, the director explained.
“I even requested that the ministry of health to provide us with special small glass boxes that don’t require any electricity to keep the vaccines in, but they refused,” he said.
Dr. Jalal Mohamed, a physician at a Lawder hospital said that there had not been a vaccination campaign since October, despite the increase in children dying from the viral disease.
Humidi Mohamed, a Lawder resident, blamed the parents’ lack of awareness.
“Vaccination is being carried out, but parents are not aware that it is a method of prevention,” he told the Yemen Times by telephone.
Fahmi Abdullah, head of healthcare in the district, concurred. He told the Yemen Times that although the vaccine is available at all health centers, a lack of health education among residents is behind the spread of the disease in the area.
The problem is serious, he said, and the health office in the district has sent a letter to the health office in Abyan to ask for a team to Lawder to study the problem in detail, but the latter has not yet responded.
Around 860 children in the area have contracted measles since September, according to another physician at the Mahnaf Lawder hospital.
“Because parents refuse to have their children vaccined, many cases have developed complications and have been admitted to hospital,” said the doctor.
In 2008, there were 164, 000 measles deaths globally – nearly 450 deaths every day or 18 deaths every hour, according to the WHO.
More than 95 percent of measles deaths occur in low-income countries with weak health infrastructures.