The Union government on Wednesday said it was dispatching three teams to Jharkhand, Gujarat, and Kerala, states that are recording a rise in measles infection that comes at a time when Mumbai has recorded 12 deaths, all of which have been in unvaccinated children.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can severely sicken young children, but is normally kept under check due to large-scale vaccination. In the past couple of years, however, the pandemic has led to a drop in this vaccination coverage.
The health ministry deployed a central team of experts earlier this month to investigate the outbreak in Mumbai, and they submitted their report last week.
“As per the investigation, all deaths were unvaccinated children,” said a senior health ministry official, asking not to be named, citing the report. In all, Mumbai has reported 233 cases, officials in the city said.
The high-level multi-disciplinary team sent there was sent to assist state health authorities in instituting public health measures and putting in place requisite control and containment measures.
“The team found a pool of unvaccinated population, especially children, making them vulnerable to infection,” said another official, requesting not to be named.
The new teams sent to Jharkhand, Gujarat and Kerala comprise three experts each from the National Centre for Disease Control, New Delhi, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital (RMLH), New Delhi, Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital (KSCH), New Delhi, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Pondicherry, regional offices of ministry of health, and other prominent institutes.
It was not immediately clear how many cases were reported in Jharkhand and Gujarat. In Kerala, Mallapuram district recorded 82 cases over two weeks.
Dr R Renuka, the medical officer at Malappuram, the Kerala district where the cases have been reported, said there was no cause for alarm but authorities have sounded an alarm at the Sabarimala hill temple, where five policemen contracted the disease.
In its 2020 statement on routine immunisation having been affected because of the pandemic, World Health Organisation, Unicef and GAVI warned that at least 80 million children under the age of one were at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles, and polio globally.
“Measles and polio vaccination campaigns, in particular, have been badly hit, with measles campaigns suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns put on hold in 38 countries,” said the WHO statement.
One of the officials said the pandemic was a cause for the lack of vaccinations. “Because of the pandemic, immunisation programme was initially hit but things were almost immediately put on track,” added the second official cited above.
India has set a 2023 target for elimination of measles from the country. Measles used to be one of the leading causes of under-5 mortality in India but, according to government data, the death rate has significantly dropped.
“The death rate for all major causes of under-5 death reduced in India from 2000 to 2017, with the highest decline in measles (82%)…” according to the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2020.
Union ministry of health has advised states to get additional measles vaccine shots to children in affected areas under ‘outbreak response immunisation mode’. “This dose would be in addition to the primary vaccination schedule of first dose at 9-12 months and second dose at 16-24 months,” the statement said.
(With inputs from HT Correspondents in Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram and Ranchi)