Health dept alerts public on measles

Measles is a serious risk to the country and the Health Department is warning parents and caregivers to ensure that children, especially ages between 6 months to 18 months, are fully immunised.

Secretary for Health, Pascoe Kase, made this announcement during a media conference held on Friday 13th December at the National Health Office in Port Moresby.

Secretary Kase, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s and UNICEF PNG’s representatives, made statements on the status of measles in PNG and the Pacific Region and urged the public to be alert and not let their guards down.

Kase alerted the public on the importance of immunisation for children due to the recent outbreak of measles in the region, including Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and Australia.

“As measles is so contagious, a very high vaccination coverage among children under 2 years of age is required to help stop the transmission of this disease,” Kase stated.

“Outbreaks are likely to occur when vaccination rates are low. Papua New Guinea has learnt lessons from the polio outbreak last year and are looking at some more efforts to combating the measles outbreak.

“PNG must continue its routine immunisation push against vaccine-preventable diseases. It is devastating to respond to an outbreak. Prevention is better than cure.”

He said as of 11th December 2019, the Samoan ministry of health has confirmed more than 4,500 measles cases and recorded 70 measles related deaths; 61 were children aged below 5.

But Kase said the situation should improve in the coming weeks as Samoa intensifies its immunisation response activities.

“Papua New Guinea is on high alert but we should not be in a panic mode,” he stated. “The key message that we want to give to our people from the Department of Health and our partners is that Papua New Guinea’s routine immunisation coverage has been low in the past but efforts have been intensified to raise this coverage.

“In fact, 2019 is the year of immunisation in Papua New Guinea. The Department of Health has already done work to raise immunisation in our country.

“A mass campaign against measles commenced in June 2019 that saw 1.17 million children from 6 months to 5 years of age vaccinated. This is more than the 95 percent coverage under the WHO target but there are pockets of population who may not have been vaccinated or babies had been born after the supplementary immunisation begun in our country.

“We are therefore appealing to every parent and caregivers to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated.”

In an effort to accelerate the immunisations surveillance, the Government of Papua New Guinea with its financial support from the Australian government, New Zealand and GAVI Vaccine alliance and technical support from the WHO and UNICEF, last month launched the Accelerated Health System strengthening program to work with provinces to address the factors contributing to low immunisation rates in PNG.

The Department of Health is working with the provinces to ensure the immunisation activities increase and health facilities carry out mobile health and outreach immunisation services.

Vaccination services are free at all government run health facilities and are provided daily to all children.  However, those who have already received two doses of measles containing vaccines during their lifetime do not need to be vaccinated again.

Frieda Kana