The Nigerian Guardian reports that 60 children have died from a measles outbreak in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. 400 other children are said to be infected. If we are to believe these figures we should be very angry! Angry that 40 years after the measles vaccine became available, at the cost today of less than 30 cents, children still get infected by the measles virus. Angry that when children do get infected, 15% of them die from it! 15%! Even in a worst-case scenario mortality from measles hardly exceeds 7%! Why are our future leaders dying from a disease that is preventable by less than 30 cents?
We are told that "the health department of the council has been directed by the Secretary to procure and distribute drugs to all the affected villages and communities infected by measles". What drugs I pray? This is measles, a viral illness! the children need good nutrition and supportive care! 2 years ago, working with MSF we reported on a large measles outbreak in Adamawa state, just south of Borno, with what we called an unacceptably high mortality. It was 10%! No mention of the response of the National Programme for Immunisation.
Some good news from the science side. A new conjugate vaccine for meningitis, could prevent the annual outbreaks experienced in Northern Nigeria and surrounding countries. Protection is expected to last for several years, and will be used to prevent epidemics, rather than dispensed reactively to control outbreaks as the older polysaccaride vaccines.
The challenge will be getting it to the people that need it once available. The managerial challenges of converting science into health benefits will define how we attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Did I hear someone shout "what of the HPV vaccine?"
That will be the day!