Binita PriyambadaMar 16, 2019 14:47:55 IST
After eliminating diseases like Polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus, smallpox and yaws in the past, India was all set to counter measles and include it in the eradication list. For this, India and 10 other countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region took a determined initiative to obliterate measles and constraint rubella/congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) by 2020.
The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, in 2017, announced the Rubella vaccine in its universal immunization program (UIP) as Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccine towards this goal. Being effective for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), the project has a target of vaccinating 41 crore children.
However, within a year of it being introduced, British doctor Andrew Wakefield declared that the inoculation resulted in serious health issues like autism and inflammatory bowel disease in children and should thus not be given to them.
The claims led to the anti-vaxxer drive which meant people actively propagated against it. This crusade reached India among many countries, and even gained traction here. The groups protested and as it is said, bad news travels faster than good, many refused to give their kids this preventive injection.
To make matters worse, the vaccination drive that was happening in a phased manner, in its third stage hit a roadblock when Uttar Pradesh reported the death of two children and blamed the MMR injection for it. Many other kids too were reported sick from different parts of the state. Before UP, Gujarat, and Punjab had already stated the same reason for the loss of life. Though many medical officials denied it but as the claims of it being unsafe were already hovering and the unfortunate deaths followed, many believed in this dubious fact.
The controversial claims got wide media coverage which led to many parents thus, read and believe the story. On interrogation, independent experts found out that there was no evidence to link the MMR and autism but much damage had been done by then. It was in 2010, the 1998 study that earlier claimed of a connection got retracted. Wakefield was even struck off the medical register to subside the scandalous claims.
Measles affects nearly 2.5 million children in India, as per a World Health Organization (WHO) study. Of these, nearly 49,000 infected children die each year thereby, contribute to nearly 37 percent to the global numbers. Being a highly contagious viral disease, the symptoms of it are high fever, body rash, cough, running nose, and red watery eyes, the disease attacks the immune system of the body. This consequently leads to complications like severe diarrhoea, respiratory infections such as pneumonia, blindness, etc. which can cause deaths.
Rubella, on the other hand, is a mild viral infection that usually occurs mostly in children and young adults. Rash and low fever trails this infection which may result in swelling of lymph node and joint pain in some cases. It is a serious disease for pregnant women as the infection can lead to abortion, and even stillbirth or multiple birth defects in the new-born.
After being in the midst of controversy, the truth is the MR vaccine is safe and effective and is being used in around 150 countries. It should ideally be given when a child is between 9-12 months or 16-24 months of age. The government in its campaign to eradicate the disease offers the vaccine, which is produced in India and is WHO prequalified for free. Once, the shot is given to a child, the side effect, if at all, can be low fever and mild rash.
The vaccine is recommended to all kids between nine months to 15 years. In fact, those who have earlier been immunized by their paediatrician should also take the government prescribed MR injection as the extra dose will only provide additional protection. While measles is a life-threatening disease, rubella leads to permanent defect, thus, the Measles-Rubella vaccine should be provided to each and every child.
The author is a Senior consultant in the medical team at docprime.com
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