MYANMAR : Rakhine District – Sittwe City : A vaccine shortage is leaving hundreds of thousands of children at risk of a deadly viral outbreak in Rakhine State, health officials have said.
Japanese encephalitis has been particularly acute in Shan and Rakhine states, where the Department of Public Health has launched an inoculation drive to stop the spread of mosquito-borne infections.
But the vaccine program is being limited to only the state capital, as the health department does not have enough jabs to go around.
So far this year, 45 cases of Japanese encephalitis in children have been reported in Rakhine, resulting in six deaths. Despite cases having occurred in four of the state’s townships – Sittwe, Ponnagyun, Pauktaw and Kyauktaw –the vaccine drive will take place only in Sittwe because it has the highest population density, according to Dr Thaung Hlaing, chief officer of public health in Rakhine.
“The main problem is that we don’t have enough vaccines. We have been given 100,000 vaccines and so we can’t inject children in other townships. There are 98,934 children living in Sittwe who need vaccination,” he said. Last year, approximately 140,000 children in Sittwe were vaccinated against the vaccine-preventable disease.
The department announced that children living in IDP camps will be included in the vaccination program. Though it cannot be confirmed exactly how many children are living in the Sittwe camps, the department has set aside 3300 vaccinations for those minors.
Japanese encephalitis is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most infected people show no symptoms, but among those who do experience symptoms, the disease can be serious, with fever, neck stiffness, seizures and coma. About one in four victims dies and up to 50 percent of survivors may be left with a permanent disability.
The disease occurs mainly in rural parts of Asia.
“This disease occurs in the villages mostly and is particularly found in people who live near pigsties,” said Dr Kyi Kyi Thar, Sittwe township public health officer. “In these villages pigsties are often situated beside and under people’s houses.”
Dr Kyi Kyi Thar expressed confidence that with this new round of vaccinations, prevalence of the disease – at least in Sittwe – will be reduced.
Across Myanmar this year, there have been 173 reported cases of the disease and 19 reported deaths. Since last month, vaccination campaigns have been conducted in northern Shan and Rakhine states, where the death rate is highest.