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Date: 18th, MARCH, 2013

The authorities should move fast to contain the spread of the infectious disease

The outbreak of measles in parts of the northern states is said to have claimed the lives of no fewer than 34 children while thousands of others between the age of nine months and three years are also said to be on admission in various hospitals across the region. Although parents have attributed the outbreak of the viral disease to inadequate supply of vaccines, federal and state health officials are quick to pass the blame on parents for their alleged poor response to the immunisation drive.

According to reports, Zamfara State, where the outbreak is reported to be severest, recorded 14 fatal cases out of 136 children infected. In Kebbi State, 19 children have been confirmed dead between January and February from a total of 2,375 cases in 13 local government areas, according to a director in the state Primary Healthcare Development Agency. Katsina State has about 1,300 cases with nine fatal cases; Niger State has recorded six deaths. Yobe recorded four deaths while in Kano, where the infection rate doubled from 400 to over 800 cases, one death was reported. Outbreak of the disease has also been reported in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Bauchi states, with varying degrees.

Without doubt, the latest epidemic must have taken the health authorities by surprise, and the fact that it is currently restricted to the usually vulnerable states means either that the immunisation campaign is not taking root in those areas or that ignorance and apathy still prevail among the populace. However, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Mohammed Ali Pate, said parents must be blamed for not taking their children to clinics for the routine immunisation against childhood killer diseases, including measles. Most parents on their part attribute their reluctance to patronise the immunisation centres to three basic facts: first is that several visits to these centres had proved futile because the anti-measles vaccines were not available; and second, the measles vaccine were not in sufficient quantity at the primary health care centres where they are mostly needed. The third problem is the inadequate number of immunisation campaigners in the affected areas.

This last challenge may seem quite plausible and easy to understand given the recent murder of nine health workers on anti-polio immunisation campaign in Kano State. Yet this latest epidemic should be taken beyond the blame game. No matter the difficulties, it is the responsibility of the relevant authorities to move quickly to contain this contagious disease that easily kills children. The fact that parents do not respond adequately to the immunisation campaigns should not be an excuse to give up on the exercise. The Federal and State Ministries of Health should indeed intensify their public enlightenment campaigns with a view to encouraging parents to show concern in having their children immunised as at when due. 

Furthermore, the enlightenment task must not be left in the hands of government officials alone: community and religious leaders in these states should be part of the campaign to educate their subjects, especially nursing mothers and pregnant women, on the need to take immunisation for their children very seriously. It is also of utmost importance that cultural and religious biases which tend to demonise these campaigns as “disguised western propaganda” for depopulation should be deemphasised.

While there may have been some genuine accidental outcome of the vaccines as in the case of Pfizer International’s anti-polio campaign in Kano, it cannot be right to generalise that immunisation programmes are anti-people. We must go beyond ignorance and ensure the safety of vulnerable babies especially given the intense heat wave now ravaging many parts of northern Nigerian. This is also no time to apportion blames. It is a time to act fast before this preventable epidemic claims more innocent lives.

Article Credit: Thisday News

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