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    Sharp rise in measles cases in Afghanistan, says WHO

    CountriesAfghanistanSharp rise in measles cases in Afghanistan, says WHO
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    Sharp rise in measles cases in Afghanistan, says WHO

    The number of cases of measles and deaths caused by measles among increased by 18 per cent in the week of January 24, and 40 per cent in the week of January 31.

    Measles is endemic in Afghanistan. Following periods of lower transmission in 2019 and 2020, measles cases have been increasing in all provinces since the end of July 2021, with the highest weekly toll observed so far occurring over the last four weeks. The number of cases and deaths increased by 18 per cent in the week of January 24, and 40 per cent in the week of January 31.

    35,319 suspected cases of measles and 156 deaths have been reported in Afghanistan from 1 January 2021 to 29 January 2022. Of these, 3,221 cases were laboratory confirmed. 91 per cent of these cases and 97 per cent of these deaths were in children under five years-old.

    Although the number of deaths is relatively low, the rapid rise in cases in January 2022 suggests that the number of deaths due to measles is likely to increase sharply in the coming weeks.

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    Who stresses that measles-related deaths are not always reported or captured through surveillance systems.

    The WHO release says, “The rise in measles cases is especially concerning because of the extremely high levels of malnutrition in Afghanistan.” Malnutrition weakens immunity, making people more vulnerable to illness and death from diseases like measles – especially children.

    In addition, measles infection can cause immune system suppression and immunologic amnesia, which increases susceptibility to all pathogens, including those to which the individual was previously immune.

    WHO response

    In response, WHO and partners in Afghanistan are strengthening measles surveillance capacities and providing technical support for lab testing, case management, risk communication, vitamin A distribution, and outbreak response immunization campaigns.

    In December 2021, a measles outbreak response immunization campaign was carried out in some of the most affected provinces, reaching 1.5 million children.

    Providing children with vitamin A, especially in the context of widespread malnutrition, is also critical to help reduce sickness and death from measles. Vitamin A supplementation was provided to the 8.5 million children aged between 6 months and five years, who were reached through a nationwide polio campaign in the country in November 2021.

    WHO is now helping to plan for a larger measles outbreak response immunization campaign, which is likely start in May, aiming to reach more than 3 million children. Support from WHO includes helping with the process needed to secure additional vaccines and devices, and operational funds and support for planning the campaign.

    Measles is contagious and unvaccinated young children are at highest risk. Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by other diseases. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

     

    Image: ICRC

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