Mon, Mar 11, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Madagascar battles deadly measles outbreak

‘MAJOR EPIDEMIC’:People resorting to traditional medicine, such as dung infusions, to treat measles is frustrating the efforts to contain the disease and is leading to deaths

AFP, ANTSIRANANA, Madagascar

A boy is inoculated with the measles vaccine at a health center in the village of Anivorano in Madagascar on Jan. 27.

Photo: AFP

Frangeline is aged two, but weighs no more than a four-month-old — the terrible result of her battle with measles, which is cutting a deadly swathe through Madagascar.

Widespread malnutrition and low rates of immunization on the Indian Ocean island have ramped up the killing power of the highly infectious virus.

In the past six months, nearly 1,000 children have been killed by a resurgent disease that vaccination once appeared to have tamed.

Now on a drip, the scrawny infant was only saved because her mother Soa Robertine, 32, made the 25km trek from her home to the Anivorano-nord health center, in the island’s far north.

Without her timely action, respiratory or neurological complications arising from the virus would have proved fatal, doctors said.

“Frangeline is suffering severe malnutrition and she wasn’t vaccinated against measles,” the clinic’s head of medicine Hollande Robisoa said. “She contracted a complicated form of measles and she would have died if she hadn’t been brought here.”

Many other children have not been so lucky.

Between September last year and last month, there were more than 79,000 cases of measles in Madagascar, 926 of which were fatal, the WHO said.

The Anivorano-nord clinic has had 510 patients suffering from kitrotro and kisaosy — the local names for measles.

About 100 patients were hospitalized, but only four lost their lives, official statistics showed.

However, many local people dispute the numbers in a community where rumors are common.

“I heard that hundreds of children have already died,” said Sylvain Randriamaro, 46, sitting in the hospital waiting room.

“I was alarmed, so I decided to vaccinate my two children,” aged five and six, he said.

Measles has hit Madagascar barely a year after it was gripped by an outbreak of plague that claimed 200 lives.

“It’s a major epidemic,” WHO representative Vincent Sodjinou said. “It’s down to the fact that for almost a decade the rate of vaccine coverage was not high enough and, over generations, the numbers of unvaccinated people have increased.”

Measles can be relatively benign if symptoms like fever and cough are handled promptly.

If not, there is a risk of “opportunistic” illness such as pneumonia or diarrhoea — diseases that can fatally attack patients with weak immune systems.

In Madagascar, where 47 percent of children under five are malnourished, the disease has proved particularly dangerous.

“It’s often said that malnutrition makes a bed for measles,” Sodjinou said. “The most serious cases are often reported in malnourished children.”

The pediatric ward at Antsiranana’s military hospital, north of Anivorano, has been overwhelmed.

“Normally we only treat one measles case here every two months,” head of medicine Ravohavy Setriny Mahatsangy said. “We’ve had 444 just since December.”

Mahatsangy blamed physical contact between patients, their “reluctance to go to hospital and opposition to vaccinations.”

The combination of factors has wrought a tragic toll on his patients.

One example is Marie Lydia Zafisoa, aged eight, whose “mother took her to a witch doctor ... and then a traditional healer who prescribed six baths,” her aunt, Bana Tombo, said.

When that failed, Zafisoa’s father carried her to the clinic.

“It was too late — she died on the way, on her father’s shoulders,” Tombo said.

Seven-month-old Adriano Luc Rakototsioharana was more fortunate.

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