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Intensify immunisation

JUST last week we were stressing the urgent need to ramp up the war against HIV and tuberculosis — two ailments that have wreaked havoc in our kingdom.

Little did we know that another disease, measles, was sweeping across the country!

By Tuesday, 20 deaths from the disease had been reported in four of Lesotho’s 10 districts since the beginning of March.

A total of 1 168 suspected cases had been reported countrywide with 49 confirmed cases.

The actual number of measles cases could be higher, because due to lack of information and the country’s limited capacity clinical diagnosis and laboratory confirmation is not always sought or available.

Granted, measles — one of the most contagious infections known to humans — is one of the leading causes of death among children with 164 000 deaths recorded globally in 2008.

The disease kills more children than HIV and Aids in the entire sub-Saharan region.

Yet in this day and age measles shouldn’t be claiming a single life.

No Mosotho child should be dying from this deadly but preventable disease.

The needless death of the 20 children in the districts should jolt us into action lest we see the outbreak degenerate into a pandemic.

And anyone with their heads screwed on will not find solace in the fact that the current measles outbreak is not confined to Lesotho.

The outbreak has claimed lives in South Africa too, a country with resources far better than Lesotho’s.

It is encouraging that the Ministry of Health has been forced to breathe life into the national immunisation campaign against measles and other diseases such as polio.

But is it enough and have we done all we can to combat the preventable disease?

We think not.

If as a country we do not re-strategise our immunisation campaigns as a matter of urgency we will once again be caught off-guard.

Measles will continue killing children.

And the rural masses — who make up 80 percent of Lesotho’s population — will always bear the brunt of such outbreaks.

We have written ad nauseum about the country’s shaky health infrastructure.

So too have we chronicled the dearth of sufficient and trained staff at public medical facilities.

But this surely cannot be an alibi for our challenges in the health sector if the government knows what needs to be done.

While the government continuously works on establishing an acceptable health infrastructure we have challenges such as the measles outbreak crying out for urgent attention.

Regular mass immunisation programmes are crucial.

The cause of the latest measles outbreak is not yet known, but over the years we have established why some people do not immunise their children.

If it’s not for religious reasons, they have no clue whatsoever about the danger of the disease.

This should place emphasis on a vigorous campaign to educate the populace about measles and other diseases that affect children.

Common sense dictates that if the country has the medicine yet children continue dying from measles it means we haven’t done enough to alert and educate citizens about the disease.

Stockpiling medicine and waiting for children to get sick first will not help us.

Thus the need for forceful information dissemination campaigns cannot be overemphasised.

It is critical that the Ministry of Health amplifies its campaign for routine immunisation for all babies.

A campaign to provide a second opportunity for all children up to 15 years is as urgent as the need to do regular follow-ups. 

Needless to say improved laboratory facilities so that cases can be confirmed expeditiously is essential.

Let’s not wait too for other common child killer diseases to wreak havoc before we can take corrective action.

Besides measles, let’s watch out for polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and tuberculosis.

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