Dozens of Nigerians have died from Measles.
Federal health authorities in Abuja are reporting the full outbreak of measles, a contagious viral disease that has infected no fewer than 4000 children and killed at least 36 children in the northern states of the country by the end of last week.
Since it’s outbreak last month, the viral disease has spread to network 12 states of the north into a vortex of contagion within which the over 4000 reported infections and 36 deaths were officially recorded in the last fortnight.
Children between 9 months and 5-years-old are particularly susceptible to the disease.
PREMIUM TIMES tracking of the growth path of the disease indicate that states falling into the measles network are Niger, Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina, and Bauchi as the worst hit states; with Kaduna alone recording over 500 new infections.
A comprehensive response to the spread of the epidemic would require the admission of double doses of immunisation to children, but last Friday, the Health Minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, blamed inadequate funding for the difficulty in addressing this problem.
At least N1.6 billion has been set aside for the vaccination of the disease in northern states, said the health minister.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Director for Information at the Ministry of Health, Yusuf Isiaka, admitted adequate fund has not been disbursed for this purpose but said this is nothing unusual.
“Yes we have minor funding issue but this is not different from anybody else,” he said. “Even you, can you tell me you have enough fund to meet all you family needs?”
Mr. Isiaka said health workers have been deployed to the affected states and are doing everything possible to fight back the diseases.
He said the ministry is using jingles to educate parents that have refused to allow their children to be immunised on the benefits of the vaccination.
Further, he said the ministry has solicited the help of prominent traditional leaders, such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the governors of the affected states to spearhead the sensitisation campaign.
The Minister of State for Health, Muhammad Pate, had also blamed the outbreak on parents’ refusal to immunise their children.
“The measles outbreak is a manifestation of the refusal of parents to immunise children; for years we have been saying routine immunisation is very important; the federal government provided free vaccines and it has been working with the state governments,” he said.
Osahon Enabulele, President of the Nigeria Medical Association, agrees with Mr Pate.
“You must understand that we’ve been having challenges with the issue of acceptance in that part of the country, which is quite sad really,” he told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone.
Mr. Enabulele called for a change of mindset as well as cultural and religious beliefs that led to the rejection of vaccination in the North. To better tackle the issue, he said surveys should be done in the affected areas to determine the causes of outbreak and access to vaccination. According to him we should not deny innocent children chance to healthy lives because of religious and cultural beliefs.
He pointed out that the recent killings of vaccinators in Kano could have hampered the efforts of health workers.
Mr. Enabulele also said that poor storage facilities as well as epileptic power supply could also reduce the potency of vaccine administered to children.
He said that in order to prevent these challenges, government should review its immunisation policies toward the creation of access stations in these communities where people are able to access the immunisation in 9 months instead of the one-off door-to-door campaign that is the current practice.
Also he said the provision of funds does not ordinarily translate to reduction.
“What do you do when you provide all the funds and buy all the vaccine and the people refuse to use them? Government should educate and sensitise the people on the benefit of the vaccines,” he said.
Nigeria ranks among countries with the highest cases of measles infection in the world say the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2011, 51 cases of new infection were recorded daily placing the country among the top three of countries with the highest infection with 18, 843.
The countries that ranked ahead of Nigeria are The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with 134, 042 infections and India with 29,339 infections.