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General News Mon, 25 Nov 2002

Mass Measles Campaign Starts Next Month

NEXT month, December 9-15, a national mass measles campaign will be held in the country to reduce illness and deaths from measles in the country.

All children, nine months and under-15 years will be vaccinated free of charge by trained health workers.

The campaign, which has the theme, ?Measles Let?s Control it for a Healthy Childhood,? is being organised by the Ghana Health Service, Ghana Red Cross, United Nations Children?s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Immunisation posts will be set up in all communities to immunise children to give them extra protection and prevent measles outbreak. As part of the campaign, parents and guardians will also be encouraged to give their children and wards aged between six months and five years Vitamin A capsules every six months to make them strong and healthy.

Measles is a dangerous disease which kills children. The introduction of immunisation against childhood killer diseases, like measles, in this country over the past 20 years has considerably reduced the number of children who get measles.

According to the five year Measles Control Strategic Plan of Action (2001-2006) of the Ministry of Health, despite increasing routine coverage, vaccine preventable diseases are still among the major causes of morbidity in Ghana.

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The national coverage with measles antigen is steadily increasing and the reported number of cases and interval between epidemics decreasing. Yet measles remains one of the major causes of childhood illness in Ghana. Measles outbreak continues to occur, often in some high-risk areas, and the country faced one big outbreak in 1995 with 43,177 reported cases and 85 deaths. The strategy document says that as of 1995, in most of the regions health workers responded to the outbreak with vaccination campaigns, usually targeting age group below five years.

This response has been shown by experiences of other African countries to have little impact on the outbreak, since measles spreads very fast and widespread infection already occurs if response is low.

Measles outbreak occurs mostly in children above five years. The Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Mercy Naa Kanley Ahun, said many of the measles cases (30-50 per cent) are seen in children with mostly (about 96 per cent) occurring in children less than 15 years of age,

To keep measles under control, she said, over 90 per cent of the children need to be vaccinated through the routine immunisation. In addition, regular mass measles campaigns are needed to vaccinate large numbers of children within a short period to prevent outbreaks.

Measles is caused by a small germ, called the measles virus. It is transmitted or passed from person to person when droplets of moisture are discharged from a patient?s mouth or nose when his/her coughs or sneezes are inhaled by another person. All children are at risk of getting the disease.

The signs and symptoms are fever, skin rash, running nose and cough. If not treated, a child with measles can develop complications like diarrhoea, pneumonia, eye and ear infection and sores in the mouth. These can lead to death.

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Dr Ahun said the measles vaccination is given as an injection on the child?s left upper arm. A new needle and syringe will be used for every child and thereafter destroyed.

She noted that the vision of the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service is to substantially reduce cases and deaths attributable to measles among children.

The first phase of the campaign was implemented in the Central Region last year. She said the follow-up to the December campaign will be after four years, adding that the GHS will work to sustain routine immunisation coverage of about 80 per cent.

Dr Ahun said one important aspect of controlling measles is an effective surveillance. In this country, there is insufficient information regarding age group and vaccination status of reported measles cases.

There is also mild under-reporting of deaths. This is a limitation of the routine surveillance system guiding and controlling programme efficiency. The strategy therefore is to encourage all regions to implement case/laboratory based measles surveillance which will help to document area of focal transmission.

Source: GNA