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Measles Outbreak at Open Arms Nursery

A measles epidemic has hit Central and South Africa; Malawi and the children at Malawi Children’s Village did not escape.

Unfortunately eight of the reported 197 deaths since the first of the year were children from the nursery associated with MCV and operated by a British nonprofit Open Arms.  The staff is devastated.  All died in the Mangochi District Hospital.

One of the earliest children was sent to the hospital because the Open Arms staff had suspected measles, but the child was sent home to Open Arms, cleared by the hospital as not having measles.

The Ministry of Health said that this year, as many as 77,000 more have been infected with measles. The last epidemic occurred in 2000 when 54 people died. (Read the Reuters article here.)

By this last May the country with the help of Medicine Sans Frontier MS F   had begun a vigorous campaign to provide vaccinations throughout the country.  This effort suffered a serious setback at the end of June when a fire at Central Poultry, a renowned poultry company, in the capital, destroyed about $280,000 worth of vaccine that was to be used by MSF.

Malawi’s current measles immunization rate is close to 60%, the goal is 90%.

Current reports from MCV are that people are lining up in the villages for their immunizations. One of our Board members Mary Palmory is currently in Malawi helping with a community orphan survey.  She wrote of August 18, “When going to Kela village today there were over 50 (probably 100) people waiting under a tree. We all got excited to think that many people were waiting for our survey. The most that had been waiting was probably 30. At any rate, today was first day for beginning immunization campaign; targeting 6 million children aged 6 months to 15 yrs”

Measles is a devastating disease for unimmunized children.  I have never seen a case until working at the Kamusu Central Hospital in Lilongwe in 1985.  We had an isolation ward of measles, probably 30 kids all miserable with high fevers, weeping eyes and nose, skin rashes and many with pneumonia.  Of course this was frequently complicated by malaria and malnutrition.   They did not have a chance.  The youngest were the most at risk.

I wonder if the country has been so overwhelmed with HIV/AIDS that it let down its guard on other preventable diseases of childhood.