Hundreds of children are falling ill with measles in Zabarmari, a small town in conflict-affected Borno state, Nigeria, the international humanitarian medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today. A vaccination campaign is needed to stem the epidemic in Zabarmari and the state capital, Maiduguri.
“We are engaged in discussions with the authorities and we are preparing to support them in a catch-up vaccination campaign in Maiduguri and Zabarmari as soon as the vaccines are available, because measles is extremely contagious and particularly dangerous for young children”, said David Thérond, MSF head of mission.
The vaccination plan is still under discussion at the national and federal levels with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
MSF treats children with measles at Gwange pediatric hospital in Maiduguri. The first child was admitted on December 3 and the number of patients has increased since then in Gwange and other hospitals in Maiduguri. From January 1 to April 3, MSF admitted a total of 1,158 children with measles to Gwange Pediatric Hospital, 58 percent of whom were from Zabarmari, about 19 km from Maiduguri.
MSF has increased the number of beds from 65 to 105 at Gwange hospital and has also strengthened the capacity of patients hospitalized at another health facility run by MSF in Fori district in Maiduguri. MSF has also launched activities in partnership with the health authorities in the town of Zabarmari, which has an estimated population of over 45,000 people, including families displaced by conflict in the region.
Because the conflict in the region makes access to Zabarmari difficult, MSF has set up a local team comprising 10 community health workers and a nurse. This Zabarmari team is supervised by a mobile team based in Maiduguri to support local primary health care and refer children with severe cases of measles to Gwange Pediatric Hospital.
Borno State has experienced repeated measles outbreaks over the past decade. During the measles epidemic in 2019, eight local communities in Borno State were affected and MSF treated 4,000 children in hospitals in Gwange and Bama. Several factors are contributing to the epidemic: Routine vaccinations are not carried out in many places because, according to health authorities, more than 60 percent of health centers in the region are closed or unable to function properly due to the conflict . The fighting also forced the departure of some humanitarian organizations providing health care in remote areas.
Zabarmari’s mother of seven, Kubura Mohammed, came to the pediatric hospital with her four-year-old daughter, Kaltume Hafisu, who was diagnosed with measles.
“My daughter had been sick for six days before I took her to the hospital,” she said. “The medical team were all around my daughter throughout our first night because her condition was really critical. Her treatment started from the moment she was admitted and that includes the blood transfusion and administration of IV fluids. I should add that about two weeks ago one of my daughters was also treated for measles at this hospital. All of my seven children have had measles at different times. “
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