Tackle myths

Mass vaccination drives against measles seem to be bearing fruit. The number of people dying from measles registered a sharp fall over the past decade.

According to the World Health Organization, measles deaths dropped from 5,62,000 in 2000 to 1,22,000 in 2012, a 78 per cent decline. The annual number of measles cases reported too reduced in that period. The fall in measles deaths has been attributed to mass immunization campaigns and there is reason for the world to draw some satisfaction from these efforts. After all, immunization against measles prevented 13.8 million deaths between 2000 and 2012.  However, a lot of work remains to be done as a large number of children are still dying of a disease that is preventable and treatable. Over 330 children are dying of measles daily and every one of these deaths need not have happened. Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe experienced large outbreaks in 2012. The Democratic Republic of Congo witnessed the largest measles outbreak that year with 72,029 reported cases.

The news from Syria is particularly disturbing. The country was making progress in eliminating measles but civil war has stood in the way of vaccination drives and resulted in a surge in measles cases.

India has made significant progress in fighting measles. It has jointed a regional initiative to eradicate measles by 2020. Many doubt whether it will meet the deadline. However, its remarkable eradication of polio holds out hope. Health officials say that immunization efforts will focus on measles now. Besides expanding routine immunization coverage, India will have to improve its detection of measles cases.
Measles is a highly contagious disease.

A single child with measles can infect an entire neighbourhood. This underscores the need to vaccinate every child against the disease. An important obstacle in the way of vaccination is traditional understandings of measles. In parts of southern India, measles is regarded as a visitation of a goddess. Consequently, people are reluctant to take steps to prevent measles or even to seek treatment for it. Health workers must focus on removing such misconceptions. Claims of a link between autism and the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine prompted many parents in Europe and North America to decide against vaccinating their children. This drop in vaccination compliance is believed to be behind the large measles outbreaks in these continents in recent years. The success of fighting measles thus hinges on tackling myths and misconceptions about this disease.

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