Close to 600,000 Nepalese children are being are being vaccinated against measles amidst fears of a resurgence of the disease following the 25 April earthquake.
The earthquake and subsequent tremors killed more than 8,500 people and shattered the country’s physical infrastructure, including housing, schools, and power lines. It also destroyed an estimated 70 percent of the country’s health facilities and disrupted a wide range of routine immunization activities.
Measles outbreaks often follow natural disasters. And although there have been no reported outbreaks since 25 April, the sudden population displacement caused by the earthquake and subsequent tremors has created a huge risk factor for the disease.
“Measles is very contagious and can potentially be deadly, and we fear it could spread very quickly in the often crowded conditions in the improvised camps where many children are living,” said United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Nepal, Tomoo Hozumi.
Nepal’s Ministry of Health, with support from the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI) and national partners, has already concluded a vaccination campaign in settlements in the densely populated districts of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley. And on 15 June the campaign was expanded to include 12 other districts most affected by the disaster.
Prior to the earthquake, close to 90 per cent of Nepalese children had received a first dose of measles vaccine. Mr. Hozumi warned that this achievement was now in jeopardy.
“We have been working for decades to eliminate measles in Nepal,” he said. “Unless we act now, there is a real risk of it re-emerging as a major threat for children, which would set back our collective efforts.”
The total target population for both Kathmandu valley and regional campaigns is 596,757 children aged between six months and five years of age. Invitation cards have been sent to every household in the affected areas, and vaccinations are being carried out at nearly 9,000 booths.
The M&RI has provided vaccines, logistical assistance and has supported trainings, advocacy, and social mobilization efforts. The total cost of the campaign is $541, 835, half of which is provided by the M&RI, with the remainder coming from Nepal’s government.
Originally established as the Measles Initiative in 2001, the M&RI is a collaborative effort founded by the American Red Cross (ARC), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Foundation (UNF), UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The M&RI mobilizes resources, provides technical expertise, and assists with planning and implementation of quality supplementary campaigns.