By Ashok Ramsarup :: While the World Health Organisation has heaped praises on South Africa in the manner in which it is tackling the Novel Coronavirus-19 pandemic, but shocking details of measles is emerging from three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is an international, independent medical humanitarian organisation has indicated that countries including, Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are struggling to contain the deadly measles epidemic.
Statistics show that in 2018 measles claimed the lives of more than 140,000 people – mostly children -from around the world. MSF says the numbers for this year are expected to be far higher, following devastating outbreaks in several countries.
MSF reports say in the DRC, more than 6,600 children – mainly under 5 years, have died from measles since 2019, despite government-led vaccination programmes. The epidemic is far from over in CAR, recording the biggest outbreak in two decades, was declared earlier this year and while in Chad remains gripped by a two-year measles epidemic that shows no signs of abating.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has indicated that measles immunisation programmes in Chad to be only 37% and there has not been a national vaccination campaign for the past five years, leaving children under five-years-old vulnerable to the infection and ultimately leading to death.
UNICEF says local hospitals lack human resources capacity and supplies to treat severe measles cases in the landlocked country in North-Central Africa. It says the country often grapples with 50 degrees Celsius climatic conditions.
MSF teams have warned that implementing COVID-19 preventive measures is, of course, vital to protecting populations and health workers, but focusing on one health crisis will create problems.
MSF Operations Co-Ordinator in the DRC Emmanuel Lampaert said: “As we adapt our approach to the coronavirus pandemic challenges and support the response to it, it is important to remember that a one-track focus on COVID-19 will sow the seeds of other major health crises.”
Lampaert added: “Reducing vaccinations, nutrition support or malaria prevention in the face of a public health crisis will lead to other crises, making the situation even worse. Neglecting the other health issues will make us complicit in many more future deaths.”
Meanwhile, South Africa now has reached more than 7 000 Covid-19 cases. It’s reported that 16 people, including several doctors and a nurse, tested positive for the deadly virus at a North Coast hospital in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Ashok Ramsarup is award-winning senior journalist of South Africa