Kenya hit by measles outbreaks – and polio looms on the borders

Publié: 28 avril 2006 0:00 CET

Antony Mwangi, Head of PR & Communications, Kenya Red Cross

One and a half million Kenyan children are at risk of contracting measles after an upsurge of confirmed measles outbreaks in about 39 districts in Kenya. Health institutions in the country are on high alert since the sudden increase in measles cases. The reason for the outbreaks, according to Dr. James Kisia, Kenya Red Cross’s Head of Health & Social Services, can be attributed to the ongoing severe drought, low immunisation coverage, a high rate of malnutrition among children, illiteracy and “laxity among parents to take their children for immunisation against the disease.” The outbreaks are also partly blamed on an increase in the number of visitors from neighbouring countries.

The disease has been reported in North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces and there are fears that the disease could spread quickly to other parts of the country.

The national goal for accelerated control of measles in Kenya was to reduce related morbidity by 90% and case mortality by 95% by 2005. The country has put a lot of effort to achieve this goal by immunising all children with one dose of measles vaccine before their first birthday through the routine Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunisation (KEPI). Ensuring children receive two doses of measles through both routine and supplemental activities has also reduced the number of confirmed measles cases.

However, with an under-one-year population of 3.9 million, 1.75 million children have not been protected against measles and thus are susceptible to the virus. According to Dr. James Nyikal, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services, as many as 35% of newborns are not being immunised, translating into half a million unvaccinated children. A national mass measles vaccination campaign, scheduled for 2005, did not take place, thereby further complicating the effort against combating the disease. It is reported that 20% of deaths among children under five are caused by measles.

The Kenya Red Cross Society will participate in government-organized immunisation campaigns in seven of the affected districts (Marsabit, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, Isiolo and Nairobi/Kibera). This First Phase will act as an emergency response while the Second Phase, commencing in June, will target children across the whole country.

More than 5,000 children aged 9 months-5 years will be immunised in the first phase of a measles vaccination campaign from 29th April to 5th May 2006. According to the Government of Kenya, the two phases of the measles countrywide campaign is expected to cost Ksh 530 million, with the first phase expected to cost Ksh 77 million in 16 districts.

In addition to the measles outbreak, Kenya is facing a serious threat of polio as outbreaks have been confirmed in neighbouring countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Polio immunisation will be given to newborns and children under five years, to go along with the measles vaccination. As part of the campaign, children undergoing the vaccination will also receive Vitamin A supplement to strengthen their resistance against diseases. Residents of Isiolo District will, in addition to the measles and polio vaccines, also receive long lasting insecticidal mosquito nets.

More than 500 Kenya Red Cross volunteers from the affected locations, as well as programme officers from the National Society’s Headquarters, will assist in social mobilisation and other assigned tasks at the vaccination posts. The social mobilisation will be done through registration of all children below five years in each household; house-to-house campaign, advocacy meetings and awareness creation through chiefs’ meetings Barazas or the churches/mosques; distribution of educational materials; dissemination of ARCHI 2010 toolkit messages on measles, malaria and community disease prevention activities and integration of social mobilisation with food distribution.

Sixteen trucks donated by the Norwegian Red Cross to KRCS, in addition to available Land Cruisers, will be used during the pre-campaign social mobilisation and during the actual campaign period. The National Society will further participate in the mass measles vaccination campaign in 18 districts countrywide in the second phase in June 2006 through the active participation of KRCS Branches.

The Kenya Red Cross is not new to the effort to reduce and/or control vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses. The society has previously participated in National Immunisation Days for Polio Eradication, Mass Measles campaign in six districts (Tana River, Nyeri, Kibera, Machakos, Garissa, Rachuonyo and Machakos) in 2002. The campaign, which was the largest in Kenya, successfully managed to reach 13 million children (97.9%) between the ages of nine months and 14 years with measles vaccines and Vitamin A supplement.

The National Society has the ability to reach districts through a well developed community based volunteer network of 56 Branches. The KRCS role in social mobilisation is widely recognised and has followed on several documented success stories in Togo and Zambia. This is largely due to the involvement of a large number of volunteers who visit individual homes, usually speaking the local language.