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Measles emerges in violence-hit regions

[Iraq] Iraq Measles campaign 2004, Basra. WHO
Children were vaccinated in schools during the measles vaccination campaign
Hundreds of measles cases have been confirmed in several provinces once rife with violence where health services had collapsed, according to health officials.

"Over the past three years our vaccination teams were not able to reach the restive areas where fighting was a daily routine and where the rate of the vaccination operations was low and in some cases zero," Ihsan Jaafar, who heads the Health Ministry's public health directorate, told IRIN.

Specific numbers were not available but Jaafar said: "They are in the hundreds nationwide."

He said the worst-affected provinces were Salaheddin and Kirkuk in the north, Anbar, Diyala, Baghdad and Babil in the centre and Nassiriyah in the south.

"Our teams were under constant threat at that time of violence and we marked these areas as a possible source for a measles outbreak," Jaafar added.

He added that his ministry's vaccinators would launch a nationwide campaign on 1 March in all schools after raising public awareness through local media outlets.

''All the cases were in areas once controlled by terrorists and militants, where no one dared go. The insecurity also prevented their residents from travelling to other towns to get vaccinated.''
In Diyala province, 60km north-east of Baghdad, about 150 measles cases have been registered, most of them children under six years, said Ali al-Shaji, head of the provincial health directorate.

"All the cases were in areas once controlled by terrorists and militants, where no one dared go. The insecurity also prevented their residents from travelling to other towns to get vaccinated," al-Shaji said.

However, because of improved security, 25 teams of vaccinators had managed to vaccinate 14,000 children in a five-day period. "Now we are planning to operate fixed medical units in these areas."

In the southern town of Mahmoudiyah, about 20km from Baghdad city centre, 10 to 11 cases of measles are being treated every day, according to Ahmed al-Obeidi, a doctor.

One of these was the four-year-old daughter of Abdulla Jassim al-Janabi, a farmer who lives on the outskirts of Mahmoudiyah.

"The first one was my daughter and then my sister," al-Janabi, 38, said. "We were unable to travel freely as we live in a rural area where we were seeing daily fighting."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles - a highly contagious disease caused by a virus - remains a leading cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

The disease is spread through respiration and contact with fluids from infected nose or mouth, either directly or through airborne transmission. Its symptoms include fever, coughing, runny nose, red eyes and rash and it can cause complications including blindness, encephalitis (a brain infection) and pneumonia.

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