Doubts, social media campaign derail Uganda's drive to give children jabs

Sunday October 27 2019

Uganda measels

A child reacts as he receives an injection during the nationwide vaccination campaign against measles, rubella and polio targeting all children under 15 years old in Nkozi town, about 84 km from the capital Kampala, on October 19, 2019. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP 

DICTA ASIIMWE
By DICTA ASIIMWE
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Uganda has just concluded a national polio, measles and rubella immunisation campaign that ended October 23, and which was marred by a growing vaccine sceptism by the public.

Dr Alfred Driwale, the manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation said at 80 per cent coverage for diseases like measles, the country is doing worse in 2019 than it did last year, blaming the reduction in coverage on a growing vaccine uptake hesitancy in the population.

This means the country will miss the 95 per cent immunisation national coverage target that should have been reached in 2018, and has since been pushed forward to 2020.

The 95 per cent immunisation coverage target is set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for all countries across the world, as a means to achieve what it calls herd immunity for killer diseases like polio, whooping cough, polio and measles.

Uganda’s growing vaccine sckeptical movement came to the fore during the recent polio, measles and rubella immunisation campaign that targeted children aged between nine months and 15 years.

There were reported cases where parents in different parts of the country were arrested for resisting to have their children immunised which against the law.

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In extreme case, some parents threatened to sue the government for vaccinating their children without their consent, a threat that has been brushed off the by ministry of Health since immunisation is mandatory.

The police has also issued criminal summons for a Kampala pastor, who used different forums to actively preach against the administration of the measles and rubella vaccine.

According to Dr Driwale, Kampala and its surrounding districts of Mukono and Wakiso have registered the highest resistance to the immunisation campaign.

“Over 80 per cent of the complaints came from Kampala and surrounding districts like Mukono and Wakiso,” he said.

He added that the reception of the vaccines in the rest of the country was good, with preliminary results from the first five districts showing 99.2 per cent turn up of the eligible children.

While the government has been carrying out a polio vaccination campaign, the decision to cover measles and rubella was according to Driwale intended to counter the intermittent outbreaks that Uganda has experienced across the country since 2016.

Confirmed cases

Information from the Ministry of Health shows that since the beginning of 2019, Uganda has registered 770 confirmed cases of measles and another 294 cases of rubella.

The only East African partner state to register a higher number of measles cases is South Sudan which is currently in the middle of another outbreak. Reports coming out of the country show the latest outbreak has left over one hundred people dead in one state alone.

In an interview with The EastAfrican, Dr Richard Lako, the incident manager at the national Ministry of Health confirmed the outbreak.

Dr Lako revealed that since the beginning of 2019, measles outbreaks have been confirmed in 11 counties and three internally displaced person’s camps in South Sudan.

“Yes, there are outbreaks in 11 counties across the country, first, there are reports in two different counties of Boma State, some part of Upper Nile and we had in Gbudue especially in Yambio town but our team from Ministry of Health have confirmed cases in four counties,” he said.

Earlier last week, state minister for Information told a local media house in Juba that over 100 people had reportedly died due to suspected measles disease.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can lead to death or life-long disability like blindness, hearing loss and heart defects.

Rubella also known as German measles is also as contagious, but hurts mostly unborn children leading to disabilities like blindness, loss of hearing and heart defects.

Just like Uganda, information from the WHO shows that South Sudan’s measles immunisation coverage is low.

Figures compiled by WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund in 2018 show that South Sudan’s first round measles immunisation stands at 51 per cent compared to Uganda’s 86 per cent.

Rwanda and Tanzania have the highest first round measles immunisation coverage at 99 per cent, with Kenya coming third at 89 per cent and Burundi at 88 per cent.