Vice President Joseph Boakai on Friday, May 8, launched the National Integrated Measles, Polio and Deworming Campaign, which is targeting over 600,000 children under five years old.
During the launch at the Duport Road Health Center in Paynesville, the VP said “Today, as we exit the arena of the Ebola war, we are fast marshaling our troops to launch yet another battle in the realm of our national health care system.”
VP Boakai was referring to the Ministry of Health report that there is a measles outbreak in the country and that it already had a total of 562 suspected cases in its database as of May 5.
Of the suspected cases, 37 tested positive. Out of the total number of suspected cases only 87 of the children were vaccinated. Sadly, seven deaths have been reported, said the VP.
According to him, government’s initial response to the outbreak has been “proactive. Two rounds of intensified immunization were conducted in December 2014 and February 2015 to stamp out the measles outbreak in the country.”
He admitted sadly that the turnouts to the immunization centers were very low, between 20 and 30 percent. He attributed the setback to widespread Ebola fear that had gripped the nation and the cloud of suspicion that was cast over the Ebola Trial Vaccines which had been launched at about the same time as the integrated measles vaccine campaign.”
He emphasized that the vaccination, which runs from May 8 to 14, has no relationship to the Ebola trial vaccine. “They are totally different and the populations they target are not the same. The measles campaign being launched is to protect children below the age of five from measles and polio. Additionally, the worm medicine—Mebendazol–will be given along with the measles and polio vaccines to keep our citizenry strong and healthy, he explained.
During the one-week campaign, the Ministry of Health intends to immunize 603,153 children between the ages of six to 59 months who will be given Measles vaccines. Close to 700,000 between the ages of below one and 59 months will be given Oral Polio Vaccine, and 523,000 children between the ages of 12 and 59 months will receive the worm medicine, Mebendazole.
After formally launching the campaign, VP Boakai gave the first two drops of vaccine to the first infant below one month.
Speaking earlier, the House’s Committee Chair on Health, Representative Johnson T. Chea, called on all parents and guardians to take the responsibility of bringing their children to be vaccinated.
Rep. Chea said if a child takes the full dose of the polio vaccine, that child will be protected from the crippling childhood disease.
Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Country Representative, said roughly “one quarter of children die in Liberia before their 5th birthday. They are dying from vaccine preventable diseases.”
He disclosed that at least 10 percent of deaths among Liberian children under five is due to measles.
Dr. Bernice Dahn, Chief Medical Officer, Republic of Liberia and Health Minister-designate, said immunization is one of the key components to restoring routine health care services in the country after Ebola.
She said four years before Ebola, measles and other childhood diseases were not heard of in Liberia, noting that today’s Liberian medical students had not seen whooping cough, measles or neo-natal tetanus in any of the health facilities in Liberia.
“Ebola came, and our immunization coverage dropped. Before Ebola, we were immunizing about 10,000 children per month for measles and that reduced to 4,000 per month.” According to the nation’s Chief Medical Officer, this means that Liberian kids are in danger.
She disclosed that the measles outbreak was presently in 10 of the nation’s 15 counties.
“If our children didn’t die from Ebola, than they should not die from measles; they should not die from whooping cough; they should not die from neo-natal tetanus. (Protecting them through immunization) is something that we have demonstrated before and we can still do that,” she stated.
Reinforcing the advice to parents that they should take their children for the routine immunization vaccines, she and Representative Chea followed VP Boakai’ in administering the vaccines to two of the children.