Back home measles is something we read about in a textbook and screen for in pregnancy. If a woman isn't rubella immune we recommend that they have the immunisation postnatally to help protect further pregnancies. But back in 2012/13 there was an outbreak of measles in Wales.
Although the immunisation is available throughout the UK a large number of families had declined due to a feared link with autism. Despite this link not having any quality evidence it still caused understandable questions in the minds of parents.
Over 1200 people in Wales contracted measles, 87 of which were hospitalised and one young man who died. There was a massive vaccination campaign and the cost of controlling the outbreak almost reached half a million pounds.
In Maban we had a small outbreak of measles. This was recognised by MSF and with communication between other NGO's a massive vaccination campaign was started for children under five and staff working for MSF.
Despite the quick detection and reaction, children still lost their lives. Every week we meet as a group to discuss how the hospital was performing, how many admissions and births and sadly if we had any deaths. During the measles outbreak this became a regular sad update. A child would die due to complications of the disease, often being brought to the hospital too late or had been given traditional medicine which was not appropriate for measles.
In maternity we also saw the effects of measles. We admitted and treated 10 mothers during this time. They were separated from the other pregnant women and treated for dehydration, fever and often diarrhoea.
Despite this six of the 10 women went into premature labour. And worse still, none of the six babies survived. All had been born before 28 weeks and all under 1kg. This was very heartbreaking for all involved. We had cared and successfully discharged babies born smaller than this in the past. Measles had cost the lives of innocent babies and children.
From this I undertook training with our outreach team to help get the message out to the community about when to access MSF services and what signs and symptoms to look out for. This matched with the vaccine campaign greatly improved the outcomes of newborns and children.
Juba and Hamid; pharmacist assistants who play a crucial role distributing measles medication © Laura Bridle
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection which is transmitted through direct contact and through the air. Symptoms include fever, rash, red and watery eyes and cough.
Despite vaccines being available, measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children under the age of five. Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
According the WHO, in 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour. But the good news being that measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
There are two forms of measles. Rubeola and rubella. Rubeola is the more serious measles which can cause permanent damage or worse case death and rubella which is usually treated easily but can cause birth defects if contracted in pregnancy.