The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

Preventive measures necessary as measles cases rising in Afghanistan

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in a report has said that in the first four months of 2024, the organization saw a surge in measles cases in facilities it runs or supports in three provinces of Afghanistan, affecting many babies and young children. According to MSF, cases of measles are reported annually in Afghanistan, but this year’s spike in Balkh, Herat and Helmand provinces was worrying. Ten-month-old Bilal lies in bed at Mazar-e-Sharif Regional Hospital, in Afghanistan’s Balkh province, where he is being treated for measles and pneumonia, watched over by his mother Zakia. When Bilal fell ill with a fever, Zakia took him to one privately run clinic after another, but his condition got worse. “In the beginning, he had a severe fever, and despite taking him to two private medical facilities, they could not pinpoint what exactly was making him sick,” says Zakia. “At first they suspected he had pneumonia and gave him some medication, but he did not show any improvement.” When she traveled to Mazare-Sharif Regional Hospital in the provincial capital, he was diagnosed with measles and admitted first to the measles isolation unit supported by MSF and later to the intensive care unit when his condition deteriorated further. Three days later, he is showing signs of improvement. “Today, he slept well for the first time since falling ill,” says Zakia. Another mother, 21-year-old Zahra, kept her eyes on her 10- month-old son, Ali Ramin, in the back of an ambulance while journeying from Bala Dara-i-Suf District in Samangan Province to Mazar-e-Sharif Regional Hospital. “He received treatment in the local hospital for several days, but as his condition deteriorated, and we were rushed here,” Zahra says. Ali Ramin’s condition is also improving. MSF in its report says that between January and April, the organization teams treated almost 5,000 children for suspected measles: 2,700 at Mazar-e-Sharif Regional Hospital, 836 at Herat Regional Hospital in Herat Province and 1,406 at Boost Provincial Hospital in Helmand Province. It says four in five of those admitted in Herat were under the age of one. According to the MSF report, in Herat, the number of beds in the organization’s isolation unit was doubled from 31 to 61, while the measles isolation unit in Mazar-e-Sharif was running at more than 200 percent capacity between January and March, forcing children to share beds at times. The organization said that Bilal and Ali Ramin were some of the lucky ones. It added although a common childhood disease, measles could be deadly when complicated by other conditions such as malnutrition or congenital malformations. In MSF’s measles isolation unit in Herat Regional Hospital, seven to eight of every 100 children admitted with suspected measles in the first three months of this year died. Babies are particularly vulnerable to the disease, as children in Afghanistan do not receive their first dose of measles vaccine until they are nine months old. Since mid-April, the numbers of children admitted with suspected measles to facilities run by or supported by MSF have started falling and the MSF teams are hopeful that this peak is over. But to reduce future peaks and deaths seen among young infants, MSF recommends that the first dose of measles vaccine be given at six months old, and for a sustained effort to vaccinate every child in Afghanistan against the disease. “Our main priority is to treat sick patients, but this is not enough,” says MSF medical coordinator Dr Piex Uwiragiye. “The best way to combat measles is prevention through vaccination. We are already vaccinating all eligible children who come to us, but more needs to be done to prevent the further spread of the disease. We recommend that the reactive vaccination age in Afghanistan be expanded to cover children from the age of six months, who are currently left out, despite being disproportionately affected.” It is worth mentioning that MSF teams are currently supporting the Ministry of Public Health by treating patients with suspected measles in three locations: at Mazar-e-Sharif regional hospital in Balkh province, MSF supports in managing a 36-bed isolation unit, donates medical supplies and provides financial support to local health workers; at Herat regional hospital in Herat province, MSF manages a 61- bed isolation unit; at Boost provincial hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, MSF supports the isolation unit and treats measles patients. Mashal Noori

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.