Nationwide measles vaccination campaign underway

Nationwide measles vaccination campaign underway
February 28 11:05 2017

A mass measles and rubella vaccination campaign is underway throughout the Maldives with an ambitious goal of vaccinating about 70,000 people within two weeks.

The nationwide campaign was launched Sunday with the presentation of vaccination cards by President Abdulla Yameen to two staff members at the president’s office who were among the first to be vaccinated.

Briefing the press after the ceremony at the president’s office, Health Minister Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim said the government’s target is for the Maldives to become the first country in the region to achieve the World Health Organisation’s goal of eliminating measles by 2020.

Appealing for public cooperation, Nazim said the government hopes to vaccinate 95 percent of the target population before March 11.

The campaign will be carried out by the Health Protection Agency with technical assistance from the WHO, he noted.

Measles and rubella are highly contagious airborne diseases that mainly affect unvaccinated children and young adults. The measles virus affects the respiratory tract and causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Rubella is a milder disease and causes a rash that lasts for three days.

Commending the mass immunisation campaign, Dr Arvind Mathur, WHO resident representative to the Maldives, noted that the last measles case in the country was reported in 2010.

Measles vaccination began in the Maldives in 1981.

“With technical oversight of Maldives Technical Advisory Group and National Verification Committee, surveillance guidelines are already updated, public health focal points from islands and atolls have been trained and Maldives is ready for submission of its country report [in March] for regional verification,” he said.

The campaign is “unprecedented” as it covers adults up to the age of 25 “to completely bridge the immunity gap,” he observed.

The vaccine will be administered in schools to all children between eight and 14 years of age without evidence of the second dose of the vaccine.

Young adults between 15 to 25 years of age can get vaccinated in atoll hospitals, island health centres, and designated vaccinations booths in the Malé region.

In addition to booths in the capital’s suburbs Hulhumalé and Vilimalé, 11 stations have been set up in Malé, including the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, the Senahiya military hospital, the Velaanage government office building, the Roashanee building, the Maldives National University’s business school, the north harbour, the National Disaster Management Centre, the Olympus cinema, the youth centre, the artificial beach and the Rasfannu beach.

According to the WHO, it costs approximately one US dollar to immunise a child against measles. Adding rubella to measles vaccine increases the cost only slightly, and allows for shared delivery and administration costs.

Despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine, some 134,200 measles deaths were recorded globally in 2015. But measles vaccination reduced the number of deaths by 79 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2015.

The WHO’s regional director for Southeast Asia said in a statement on Sunday that an estimated 54,500 lives were lost to measles in the Southeast Asia region in 2015, while approximately 50,000 births were affected by rubella, which causes irreversible birth defects such as deafness and heart disease when transmitted from mother to fetus.

Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease, including blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh lauded the Maldives’ efforts as “a strong example of how multi-sectoral and society-wide mobilization can further public health goals,” noting support from the education, tourism, defense, sports and youth, housing, and Islamic affairs ministries as well as public service media, newspapers, youth groups, civic-minded organizations and businesses.

“Enhanced surveillance for both measles and rubella will meanwhile strengthen Maldives’ health system and provide critical infrastructure for further public health gains,” she said.

“In 2016 alone Maldives was able to eliminate malaria and lymphatic filariasis. As this initiative demonstrates, further path-breaking achievements are likely.”