By: Justicia Shipena
Prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila says the recent outbreak of measles in northern Namibia could not have happened should the measles vaccination coverage been above 95 per cent.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said this during the national integrated immunisation campaign launch on Wednesday, which aims to ensure the Namibian child is vaccinated and protected from childhood diseases.
In June, the health ministry confirmed a measles outbreak in the Outapi district, Omusati Region, with 23 suspected cases discovered during surveillance activities. Of these cases, 14 were from the Outapi district at a school in Olukekete village, and eight were from Tsandi and one from the Okahao district.
At the same time, the health ministry had also said laboratory-confirmed cases; four were linked to a school near the Namibia/Angola border.
“We would not have had an outbreak such as the one in Omusati had we had our Measles vaccination coverage of above 95 per cent for the first and second doses,” said Kuugongelwa-Amadhila.
She said the measles outbreak proved Naamibia’s vulnerability to vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Outbreaks occur every few years in areas with low vaccine coverage and where there is an accumulation of persons who have never been infected or vaccinated.”
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a paramyxovirus family virus. The infection is spread mainly through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.
Measles is the fourth leading cause of death in many African countries in children under five years of age, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHO also reported that almost 17 500 cases of measles were recorded in the African region between January and March 2022.
Meanwhile, 20 African countries reported measles outbreaks in the first quarter of this year, eight more than that in the first three months of 2021.
Hence, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said it is urgent that Namibia has a measles vaccination campaign to mitigate further spread to avoid similar outbreaks.
She concludes that in Namibia, immunisation is a human right which provides opportunities to promote integrated services and improve the overall health of recipients.
The child care and protection Act states that a child has the right to living conditions necessary for his or her development, including adequate care and protection, including adequate health care and immunisation.
Health minister Kalumbi Shangula says in recent years, the ministry recorded a reduction in immunisation of oral polio vaccine (OPV), inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines.
“These trends may have serious repercussions on the country, particularly with the re-emergence of wild polio virus (WPV) that has been reported in Malawi and Mozambique, as well as the circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (VDPV) in the sub-region,” he said.
Shangula added that low immunisation amongst children means children are susceptible to several childhood diseases and risk hospitalisation and even death at a young age, adding that it is vital for at least 90 per cent of children to be immunised.
Speaking on the campaign, Shangula said teams of supervisors of immunisation at regional and national levels would be dispatched before and during the campaign.
“They will also engage in information dialogues and listen to community members to identify challenges experienced in accessing services. Another team of independent monitors will be dispatched to all regions to monitor service provisions and service access.”
Additionally, 50 per cent of teams will provide outreach services that will include daily visits, and teams will spend up to 3 days in the field to reach the unreached.
Meanwhile, 15 per cent of the teams are set up at identified temporary fixed sites.
“15 per cent of teams remain fixed at health facilities to continue providing essential services and catering to the clients in the immediate proximity. 20 per cent of teams will provide mobile services moving from place to place, house-to-house, area-to-area in specific communities, based on mapping and social mobilisation before implementation,” said Shangula.
WHO representative Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses says the declining uptake of routine vaccination threatens the return of childhood illnesses that the country has controlled over several years.
“We also noted with concern that Penta 3 coverage was 80 per cent and above in 2021, representing a slight decrease from pre-Covid-19 coverage of 88 per cent,” he said.
Sagoe-Moses added that polio outbreaks in the SADC region, including neighbouring Angola, Mozambique and Malawi, pose a massive threat to other countries, including Namibia.
“The country must remain vigilant with its polio surveillance.”