Among the leading causes of death in children under five years, measles takes a place of prominence.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), measles can be easily contained since there is a readily available safe and effective vaccine.
Despite this, figures from WHO show that approximately 114,900 people died from measles in 2014, mostly children under the age of five, which works out to about 314 deaths every day or 13 deaths every hour.
While these numbers are still steep, they are a marked improvement from the 2.6 million deaths that used to occur each year before widespread vaccination was launched.
In Kenya, the war against measles is yet to be fully contained. This is mainly due to challenges public health officials face in ensuring all vulnerable children are immunised.
“Children mostly affected by this disease are aged between one to five years. Many of the cases we see arise from children who were not vaccinated against the disease before they reached nine months,” said Dr Nicholas Ochieng’ of Kenyatta National Hospital.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles is purely a human disease - the measles virus is not spread by any other animal species.
This highly contagious virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person and is spread through coughing and sneezing.
Once released into the air, the virus can live for up to two hours in that airspace and once others breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.
The CDC further notes that measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 per cent of the people close to that person, who are not immunised, will also become infected.
The only way, then, to halt measles in its tracks is to ensure that immunisation campaigns are carried out across the country.
“Ministry of Health officials should make every effort to ensure these vaccines are available for needy children. Further, parents should avail their children for immunisation against the disease,” said Dr Ochieng’ adding that those who say the vaccine is not safe are ignorant about medical issues.
According to the medic, a two-dose immunisation schedule is the most effective strategy against measles.
The strategy recommends that the vaccine’s efficacy is reinforced in babies by giving the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine at 15 months.
“The child who received the first dose of vaccine at nine months must also receive the second dose at 15 months. This is because at this age, the maternal antibodies will have waned which increases their risk of contracting measles,” he said.
While the symptoms of measles are pretty severe, WHO notes that most deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease rather than the disease itself.
These complications include: Encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
These complications are more common in children under the age of five and in adults over the age of 20. Those hardest hit are poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/Aids or other diseases.