Race to halt measles outbreak near King

August 7, 2008

Race to halt measles outbreak near King

2008/08/04

THOUSANDS of children are being immunised by health workers for a suspected measles outbreak at Ndevana near King William�s Town.

So far, 11 cases have been reported � three nine-month-old babies and eight children.

The Eastern Cape Health Department is now embroiled in a race to immunise more than 3600 before the epidemic spreads.

Yesterday h ealth experts like former MEC, Dr Trudy Thomas, said a breakdown in the province�s healthcare system was to blame.

�These are the signs of a complete health system breakdown in our province,� said Thomas, who added that the last serious outbreak of measles in the King William�s Town area happened around 1994.

�The department must act swiftly to prevent fatalities,� she said.

A number of doctors and nurses have been deployed to the area to immunise children.

Departmental spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said because children were the most affected, the department had to respond quickly.

�We�ve sent four teams there to look at the situation and to immunise children from the ages of six months to 14 years old,� Kupelo said.

Since this suspected outbreak was reported, the department had set up an �outbreak response campaign� to thoroughly monitor the area.

In the cases that were reported last week none of the patients were admitted to hospitals but blood samples were taken and sent to a laboratory.

�Since we�ve started the campaign on Saturday, over 1200 children have been immunised and this might be finished this Friday.

�In the area we are expecting to immunise just over 3600 children,� Kupelo said.

Dr Thomas said nurses and other health officials should have picked up the outbreak earlier.

�If the nurses at our health centres had picked up this earlier, we won�t be worried by now. This will be another blow for our province if this is not properly attended,� Thomas warned.

Dr Helmut Fritsche, spokesperson for the South African Medical Association, said health workers needed to be trained and know what was expected of them.

He said al though children were immunised it did not mean they were out of danger because the correct procedures were not being followed.

�For me the �cold chain� system is broken somewhere and this can lead to people saying that they�ve immunised children not knowing that the same vaccines were exposed to high temperatures, and that led them to be weak in preventing the deadly measles.

�I would say this needs investigation before it becomes a catastrophe,� he said.

Kupelo added an investigation had been launched and measures were being to prevent such problems.

He said parents should be wary if their children were falling ill.

Dr Thomas said she was also worried since measles had been eradicated in the area some two decades ago.

�Our health system needs to be re- looked at � measles (cases) are very dangerous,� she said.

l The World Health Organisation lists pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and HIV as the five main causes of deaths among children aged between one month and five years, which together with malnutrition are said to contribute to more than half of all child deaths. – By BONGANI FUZILE

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