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Kenya sounds alarm over measles outbreak

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 2 – Thirty two children have succumbed to complications of a new measles outbreak in the country over the past nine months.

Public Health and Sanitation Director Shahnaaz Sharif said the deadly epidemic started in refugee camps in north eastern Kenya before spreading to the rest of the country.

He explained that a total of 45 counties, excluding Lamu and Marsabit, had been affected by the outbreak with 767 confirmed cases compared to last year’s 665.

“The first cases were reported in north eastern and then in eastern province but it’s now in 217 districts out of a total of 285 districts. So very few districts remain unaffected; I would say that it’s virtually the whole country,” he explained.

He added that the government would conduct a nationwide measles vaccination campaign targeting six million children between the ages of nine months and five years, in an attempt to contain the situation.

The campaign, which would cost more than Sh500 million, would also see the administration of polio vaccines to children living in north eastern Kenya.

“The campaign will be conducted between November 3 and 7, this year. Vitamin A will also be given to all children while oral polio vaccine will be given to all children in north eastern province,” he said.

“This is because most refugees coming from Somalia are usually not vaccinated hence putting our people at risk,” he noted.

The campaign against measles will also see children up to the ages of 15 years, living in refugee camps, get vaccinated. He added that there had been 3,056 suspected cases but only 767 had been confirmed

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Siaya, Meru and Narok top the list of counties with the largest number of confirmed measles cases.

The government conducted another campaign in September, this year, covering 14 districts in Rift Valley and Eastern province targeting 432,831 children aged between nine and 59 months.

“During this campaign independent monitoring confirmed coverage of 74 percent,” he said.

Sharif further explained that the incessant outbreaks were as a result of a large population of children who had missed their immunisation.

“We only have 85 percent coverage so 15 percent of our children are not immunised and as they get older the numbers build up to a critical mass,” he explained.

He also noted that the one dose measles vaccine no longer guaranteed full protection adding that the government would in the next 18 months introduce a two dose measles vaccine.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and can lead to several complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, ear infections, blindness and death if left untreated.

“Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected,” observed Sharif.

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