WHO probes measles saga

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Pascalinah Kabi

WORLD Health Organisation (WHO) experts investigating the country’s measles and rubella vaccine saga are expected to release their findings this evening.

The Ministry of Health embarked on a nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign in February targeting children aged from 9 months to 14 years. The 14-day campaign immunised 533 546 children which represented 79 percent of the targeted children.

However, hundreds of parents have since claimed their children were adversely affected by the vaccines with side-effects that include severe body rashes, high fever and coughing.

Four children have reportedly died from the side effects, with the latest dying at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital a week ago. However, there has not yet been any postmortem confirming the virus as the cause of death.

And on Tuesday, three WHO experts on the measles and rubella (MR) immunisation jetted into the country to investigate if the four reported deaths and hundreds of cases of sick children were as a result of the MR vaccine.

The three are Balcha Masresha, the Coordinator for Measles and Rubella Elimination WHO regional Office for Africa; Sweet Jain- the Vaccine Safety Vocal Point for East and Southern Africa Expert and Zorodzai Machekanyanga- the Social Mobilisation Officer.

They began their investigations yesterday and were expected to report their findings to government and other stakeholders this evening.

They held a consultative meeting with local key stakeholders in the ongoing status of measles and rubella (MR) vaccine at a hotel in Maseru yesterday.

“We are in Lesotho following reports of alleged adverse effects of the vaccine and we are here to conduct independent investigations to establish if these reported cases are as a result of the vaccine or are coincidental cases to the MR campaign,” Dr Jain said during yesterday’s stakeholders’ meeting.

Dr Jain said the scope of the investigations included looking into the possibility that some of the children scared of injections would have anxiety problems.

He said that there were other several issues that the investigations would look into and that WHO experts would supervise the national team of experts and offer technical assistance in the investigations.

“We must be ready with investigation results by tomorrow (today) evening,” Dr Jain said.

Last year WHO investigated reported cases of MR vaccine adverse effects which allegedly killed tens of children in Namibia. WHO cleared the Namibian government of any wrongdoing; with Dr Jain telling yesterday’s meeting that some of the Namibian children died of infection in the brain and seizures.

Asked if the Lesotho investigation was not predetermined to simply clear government in order to protect WHO’s image, Dr Jain said the investigations were independent and the health organisation had nothing to hide.

“WHO has nothing to do with the manufacturing of the vaccine, ours is to ensure that all manufacturing and handling guidelines are adhered to and the independent investigations outcome will be made known to government by tomorrow evening.

“The outcome of the results, whatever they maybe, will not affect WHO in any way and for this reason we can assure the public that we will handover investigations outcomes as they are because they are not predetermined.

“I was involved in the Namibian investigations last year where we collected evidence by interviewing parents, medical doctors and collected medical reports of the said victims and we had sufficient evidence to conclude that those were coincidental deaths. One of the children had infection in the brain while the one had seizures. It is very rare that vaccination can cause deaths or have adverse effects on children,” Dr Jain said.

For his part, Dr Masresha said in the event the investigation found fault with the manufacturing company, Serum Institute of India Limited, WHO would follow procures to withdraw the licence from the said company.

“Removal of WHO pre-qualified company verification methods are in place and in a case where a WHO pre-qualified company is found to be at fault, such a company will be disqualified and countries will be immediately informed about the result and told not to procure the vaccine from such company,” Dr Masresha said.

Asked what would happen if the country was founding wanting, Dr Masresha explained that immunisation campaign preparations included ensuring that environment in which the vaccine was kept was safe from the day the vaccine was manufactured until it reached the end users (children).

 

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