Measles outbreak kills more than 1,200 in Madagascar

  • In this photo taken Thursday, March 21, 2019, mothers wait to have their babies vaccinated against measles, at a healthcare center in Larintsena, Madagascar. As the island nation faces its largest measles outbreak in history and cases soar well beyond 115,000, the problem is not centered on whether to vaccinate children. Many parents would like to do so but face immense challenges including the lack of resources and information. (AP Photo/Laetitia Bezain) Laetitia Bezain

  • In this photo taken on Thursday, March 21, 2019, mothers wait to have their babies vaccinated against measles at a healthcare center in Larintsena, Madagascar. As the island nation faces its largest measles outbreak in history and cases soar well beyond 115,000, the problem is not centered on whether to vaccinate children. Many parents would like to do so but face immense challenges including the lack of resources and information. (AP Photo/Laetitia Bezain) Laetitia Bezain

  • A volunteer nurse examines 6-moth-old Sarobidy, who is infected with measles in Madagascar. AP

Associated Press
Published: 4/14/2019 8:13:12 PM

Babies wail as a nurse tries to reassure mothers who have come to vaccinate their children against a measles outbreak that has killed more than 1,200 people in this island nation where many are desperately poor.

Madagascar faces its largest measles outbreak in history, with cases soaring well beyond 115,000, but resistance to vaccinating children is not the driving force behind the rise.

In Madagascar, many parents want to protect their children with vaccines but face immense challenges, including the lack of resources.

Only 58% of people on Madagascar’s main island have been vaccinated against measles, a major factor in the outbreak’s spread. With measles one of the most infectious diseases, immunization rates need to be 90% to 95% or higher to prevent outbreaks.

On a recent day, the Iarintsena health center’s waiting room was full, with mothers sitting on the floor and others waiting outside in the overwhelming heat.

Nifaliana Razaijafisoa had walked 9 miles with her 6-month-old baby in her arms.

“He has a fever,” she said. “I think it’s measles because there are these little pimples that have appeared on his face.”

The nurse quickly confirmed it.

“I’m so scared for him because in the village everyone says it kills babies,” Razaijafisoa said.

The outbreak has killed mostly children under 15 since it began in September, according to the World Health Organization.

“The epidemic unfortunately continues to expand in size,” though at a slower pace than a month ago, said Dr. Dossou Vincent Sodjinou, a WHO epidemiologist in Madagascar. By mid-March, 117,075 cases had been reported by the health ministry, affecting all regions of the country.

Some cases of resistance to vaccinations exist because of the influence of religion or of traditional health practitioners but they are isolated ones, he said.

This outbreak is complicated by the fact that nearly 50% of children in Madagascar are malnourished.

“Malnutrition is the bed of measles, ” Sodjinou said.

Razaijafisoa’s baby weighs just 11 pounds.

“This is the case for almost all children with measles who have come here,” said Lantonirina Rasolofoniaina, a volunteer at the health center.

Simply reaching a clinic for help can be a challenge. Many people in Madagascar cannot afford to see a doctor or buy medicine, and health centers often are understaffed or have poorly qualified workers.

As a result, information about health issues can be unreliable. Some parents are not aware that vaccines are free, at least in public health centers.


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