Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Measles Control in Viet Nam

Ha Noi, 25 April 2014 - Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy watches over her two year old son as he takes quick, short breaths in a quarantined intensive care unit (ICU) at Hanoi's National Paediatric Hospital. Like the 40 other children in the unit, Thuy's son has a severe measles infection.

Since the beginning of 2014, Viet Nam has reported more than 3,500 confirmed measles infections. More than 86% of those infected have not been immunized or their vaccination status is unknown.
In Hanoi, the National Paediatric Hospital has treated more than 1,280 measles patients and over 100 children have died from measles related complications. Among those who died, half of the children were less than nine months old.

Many children who come for treatment at the National Paediatric Hospital have underlying health conditions such as congenital heart disease, metabolic disorder and congenital anomalies.
Photo: UN Viet Nam\2014\Truong Viet Hung

Measles is still one of the leading causes of death in young children worldwide. A highly contagious disease, it quickly attacks children who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. Children who have underlying health conditions or are malnourished are particularly vulnerable if they are infected with measles, and may die of pneumonia, diarrhoea and encephalitis as a result.

Children who have underlying health conditions are risk of severe health complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and encephalitis as a result of measles infection.
Photo: UN Viet Nam\2014\Truong Viet Hung

Safe and effective vaccines since 1980

Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1980, more than 100,000 cases were reported yearly in Viet Nam. By 1988, measles vaccine coverage was at 90% which significantly reduced cases of measles to less than 10,000 per year but not enough towards complete elimination.

Since measles is so infectious, a country needs to ensure that at least 95% of all children receive two doses of the vaccine to prevent outbreaks.

"Immunization is critical to reducing child deaths in Viet Nam, said WHO Representative Dr Takeshi Kasai. "High vaccination coverage for measles among children in Viet Nam will prevent the disease from spreading, and will break the cyclical nature of the most recent measles cases.

Medical staff and Ministry of Health response

Many of the children hospitalized at the National Paediatric Hospital for measles are under 9 months old and more than 50% are from Hanoi.
Photo: UN Viet Nam\2014\Truong Viet Hung
As the number of measles infections increase, doctors and nurses are working around the clock to treat the most serious cases and to reduce overcrowding in the hospitals.

Viet Nam's Ministry of Health has responded swiftly, mobilizing its health system to control the measles infections, treat patients and vaccinate children at risk.

Hospitals and health facilities have been given extra personnel and equipment, while immunization workers across the country are providing measles vaccines to those children who have missed their routine doses.
"In my 10 years working here, I have not seen this many young children with measles," explains Dr Phan Huu Phuc, who is treating the most severe cases at the National Paediatric Hospital. "At one point, the paediatric ICU and infection disease department were overcrowded, but we were able to quickly mobilize resources to develop a new wing dedicated for measles patients. It allows us to treat moderate to severe cases of measles patients, particularly those who have acute respiratory distress and might require mechanical ventilation support" he said.

Doctors and nurses are working around the clock to control the measles infection and reduce the severity of disease and death. WHO and UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Health since the first measles cases were reported in Viet Nam. WHO technical officers are providing support for disease surveillance of patients at National Paediatric Hospital.
Photo: UN Viet Nam\2014\Truong Viet Hung

Increasing childhood vaccination

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy thinks back to a year ago when she decided not to vaccinate her son against measles. Like many other parents in Viet Nam, she had read media reports about serious side effects, including death, which some speculated were linked to routine immunization.

"I became so afraid of the side effects of vaccines that I decided not to take my son to get his routine shots. Now I have learned my lesson," she said, "and I am telling my friends to get their children vaccinated so they don't have to suffer like my son does today."

Globally, the measles vaccine has been in use for 50 years. It is safe, effective, inexpensive, and has played a major role in reducing the number of measles deaths worldwide.

Over the past 15 years, with the support of WHO, the UN Foundation and UNICEF, Viet Nam bolstered its commitment to reduce the incidence of measles outbreaks and has periodically conducted measles vaccination campaigns for children between the ages of nine months and 10 years, including a routine second dose, in an effort to ensure complete immunity.

With support from the Government, a new paediatric intensive care unit dedicated to measles patients has been built in the hospital to reduce over-crowding and to allow parents to care for their sick children.
Photo: UN Viet Nam\2014\Truong Viet Hung
Viet Nam provides a locally produced measles vaccine for all eligible children, free of charge since 2011. A national measles and rubella vaccination campaign for children between 9 month and 14 years of age is planned for later this year.

Over the last few weeks, people have rushed to get their children vaccinated against measles. "This is the most important preventive measure people can take to protect themselves, their families and their community," explains Dr Takeshi Kasai. "Successful vaccination programmes are like successful societies: they depend on the cooperation of every individual to get immunized in order to ensure the good health for the whole country."

Please view the photo essay bellow:

World Immunization Week
The slogan for World Immunization Week 2014 is "Immunize for a healthy future: Know, Check, Protect". WHO encourages families to learn more about vaccine-preventable diseases, check whether they are up-to-date with recommended vaccines, and visit their health provider to get protected.

For more information, please contact
  • WHO in Viet Nam | Ms. Tran Thi Loan | Tel: 84-4-3943 3734/5/6 (ext. 83886) | Email: media.vtn@wpro.who.int
  • UNICEF in Viet Nam | Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong | Tel: 84-4-39425706 - 11 (ext. 401)
    Email: ntthuong@unicef.org
  • UN in Viet Nam | Mr. Trinh Anh Tuan | Tel: 84-4-38224383 (ext.107) | Email: trinh.anh.tuan@one.un.org

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