MYANMAR : Health officials are urgently deploying vaccinations in western Sagaing Region in an attempt to stymie a deadly measles outbreak that has claimed two more children’s lives.
The infection, which was first reported in June, has spread rapidly and killed a total of 41 people in the Naga self-administered zone, a remote area of Sagaing Region with extremely limited access to healthcare.
Medical teams from the Ministry of Health have been sent to bolster local administrators’ attempts to control the outbreak, and provide treatment.
For nearly two months the outbreak went undiagnosed. But while health officials struggle to catch up, patients, mostly young children, are dying by the day.
Dr Than Tun Aung, deputy director general of the Department of Public Health, yesterday said that blood tests have confirmed the outbreak is attributable to measles, a viral,vaccine-preventable disease.
“Five patients’ blood work has been tested in the laboratory and the results showed that three were positive for measles in Lahe township,” he said.
Measles, a highly contagious respiratory infection, can cause a high fever, rash and flu-like symptoms, and remains a leading killer of young children, especially when they have other health ailments such as malnutrition. In the Naga-controlled area, about 200 people have reported suffering such symptoms, along with difficulty breathing, and coughing up blood.
Measles vaccination is included in the routine national program, but last year a health official told The Myanmar Times that a shortage of medicines has resulted in many children missing out on immunisation in the past. As a result, 34 measles outbreaks were reported in 2011.
Dr Than Tun Aung acknowledged that Lahe and Nanyun townships have low vaccine coverage. He added that as health officials attempt to rectify the vaccination gap, they are faced with transportation difficulties and a shortage of area health staff who can administer the inoculations.
“Regional medical teams from Nay Pyi Taw reached the area of the outbreak and are starting to administer the vaccinations and medical treatment,” he said.
Medical teams began the vaccination drive on August 6, according to U Thein Zaw, deputy director of the General Administration Office for the Naga-administered region. So far, 70 children aged from nine months to five years old have been vaccinated and 183 people in villages in Nanyun township have received medical care, he said.
“We have not gotten a report from Lahe township yet as communication is difficult,” said U Thein Zaw.
He added that Lahe and Nanyun townships lack rural health centres to provide even basic medical services.
Dr Than Tun Aung said that the ministry is planning a full-scale vaccination campaign in the Naga area in order to bring all children up to date on their immunisations.