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Budget 2017: eliminate measles

Measles will be eliminated by 2020 promises the 2017 health budget. Doing so would eradicate a public health scourge that kills thousands of children in India every year.

Copyright: sherryyates / 123RF Stock Photo

To fulfill this ambitious yet viable pledge, the Indian government will seek to build upon the country’s success in combating the disease in recent years, through a series of more extensive campaigns aimed at providing the measles and rubella (MR) vaccine to millions of children across the country. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that vaccination campaigns over the period from 2000 to 2015 reduced the number of deaths associated with measles by 79 percent.

The WHO regard the measles vaccine as “one of the best buys in public health”. It attributes the salvation of potentially 20.3 million lives to the vaccine’s usage attributing the usage of the vaccine across the 2000-2015 period.

Measles is one of the leading causes of child mortality in India. In 2015, the virus killed 49,200 Indian children, mostly under the age of 5. That year, measles killed 134,200 children worldwide. India thus accounts for 36.6 percent of the world’s child mortality caused by measles, significantly higher than expected based on its share of the world’s population.

Conditions in many areas of India provide ideal situations for infectious diseases such as the measles virus to thrive. Urban areas, especially highly built up metropolitan areas, provide a large, tightly-packed population. Poor sanitation is often brought up in relation to the spread of disease. Though with diseases such as measles, where the infection is transmitted via coughing and sneezing, no realistic standard of sanitation could entirely prevent its spread.

However, when a tried and tested vaccine, proven to be safe and widely utilised elsewhere is available there is no excuse to ignore the massive risk to the country’s children. The WHO has nothing but praise for this vaccine. It states its admiration for the fact that 85% of the world’s children are now immunised against the virus. India, in its new health budget, has vowed to add to this figure by immunising more of its own children.

The national vaccination campaign in India is set to provide vaccinations for roughly 40 million children of ages between nine months and fifteen years. Seemingly ambitious of its own accord, this campaign is the first in a series. The intention is to progress to a coverage of 410 million children. This is a campaign of a scale as of yet unheard of, and an admirable goal equalling a practical complete coverage in the younger generations.

The campaign intends to be thorough in its execution, vaccinating all children regardless of their previous vaccination status. This is a boon to the campaign, as in theory it prevents children from falling through the grid and missing the vaccination. It has been shown in reports published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that people receiving two doses of the vaccination are shown to be better protected against the infection. This means that any receiving the dose in addition to prior vaccinations suffer no negative effects so there is no downside.

This huge endeavour of 410 million is the end goal. Whether this is a possibility or not may be judged by the success of the phase one goal of 40 million children vaccinated. Nevertheless, like the various other diseases in the budget’s elimination list, the deadline of 2020 may be an estimate that is far too optimistic and the complexity of issuing 410 million vaccinations may be underestimated.

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