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Measles and Rubella campaign

Huma Khawar

Measles is a highly contagious disease that claims one life every four minutes. Every year 100,000 children are born with malformations and disabilities caused by Rubella, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Measles outbreaks occur when people who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates must reach 95 percent. Rubella, also referred to as ‘German Measles’, is a mild infection making children permanently immune to the disease. However, if a woman becomes infected with the rubella virus just before pregnancy and up to the first 10 weeks, it can cause multiple anomalies in the baby or miscarriage or still birth.

Given the high number of children that are affected or die due to measles and rubella, it is critical to control the two diseases effectively. To save children from these preventable diseases, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation is currently carrying out a Measles and Rubella (MR) Campaign across the country that aims to immunise over 90 million children at no cost.

The campaign is timely, as more than 17,000 suspected measles and rubella cases were reported in Pakistan in 2021 which is double the reported cases in all 2020, this marks a sharp increase in reported cases. However, the campaign, despite its importance, faces a number of challenges in meeting the target of vaccinating each child before it ends this week. As almost half of the target children are school-going, the success of the campaign depends largely on access to schools. No doubt the education ministry has a significant role to play.

Surprisingly, there is resistance from parents of elite schools who are refusing to get their children vaccinated. A common concern raised by them is that if their child has already been vaccinated against measles according to the Expanded Programme on Immunisation schedule, is it still safe to give the MR vaccine. According to health experts, measles has been in the routine immunisation schedule for many years, but rubella is a new vaccine being introduced in Pakistan for the first time and giving this vaccine will work as a catch-up dose that will protect the child from both the diseases.

Experts from global organisations comprising Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, World Health Organisation and UNICEF visiting the country recently, also proposed COVID-19 vaccine roll out to be given a break in schools for children between 12-15 years old during the 12 days period of the MR campaign.

With only one case of polio detected this year, the campaign will also move the country closer to maintaining measles elimination and accelerating rubella control. Known to be one of the largest MR campaigns ever to be conducted, a huge amount of effort, resources, time and energy has gone in the campaign supported by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. More than 386,000 health professionals, including 76,000 vaccinators and more than 143,000 social mobilisers, are mobilised for the two-week campaign.

Pakistan’s MR campaign represents a unique and historic opportunity to be seized in order to save lives and protect the health of children, leaving an important legacy. Parents should be proactive and encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to get their children vaccinated during these last few days. The Immunisation Programme is doing everything possible to ensure the campaign reaches as many children as possible.