Seven measles deaths were reported from two villages of Bhawanipur and Pratap Bircha in West Champaran district in Bihar in early 2021, taking the total tally to eight. A preliminary survey by the district Immunization Officer also showed at least 129 suspected cases in the district alone.

Unhygienic living conditions was found out to be the major reason behind the spread of the disease. It is an open secret that the problem of open defecation in villages in Bihar is colossal; hence, the heavy burden of deaths due to infectious diseases.

The good news is that the Measles-Rubella (MR) Campaign is going to kick start in Bihar soon. This vaccination campaign targeted at children between the age group of 9 months and 15 years is a crucial step towards reducing MR’s morbidity and mortality in the country. 

In 2019, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a nationwide campaign to support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) and UNICEF’s campaign to eliminate measles and control rubella congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) by 2020.

In the first year of its launch, 11 states were covered. Children from the remaining states and all union territories are to be vaccinated in 2021.

In our country, measles continues to be one of the leading causes of death among young children. Similarly, Rubella is contagious. It is a mild viral infection that occurs most often in children and young adults. Rubella infection in pregnant women may cause fetal death or congenital defects (like blindness, deafness, and heart defects) known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Worldwide, over one lakh babies are born with CRS every year.

Even though safe and cost-effective vaccination for preventing both these diseases is available most people, (particularly in the villages of Bihar where illiteracy, lack of vaccine education and poverty are ailing issues) are unaware of its existence.

The MR vaccine provides additional immunity-boosting and protection from both measles and rubella. India accounts for approximately 37% of global measles deaths (49,200 measles deaths in 2015 out of a total of 1.35 lakh deaths). According to health specialists, 10% of all under-five deaths and 40% of hospitalizations of infants due to diarrhea could be prevented with the use of this vaccine alone.

Studies have also shown that measles vaccination has resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between the years 2000 and 2015 worldwide. Between the years, 2000-2015, an estimated two crore (20 million) deaths were prevented by measles vaccination making it one of the best buys in public health.

The icing on the cake is that the vaccine is not only safe but is also necessary and can be given to a child who was vaccinated earlier. Public health specialists believe that this targeted elimination program of measles and rubella announced by WHO is the only way to take this bull by its horns.

 Written by – Jaya is an award-winning journalist, with rich experience in public affairs and storytelling. With over 13 years in both media and public relations role, where she has worked with development sector organizations and government in equal measure, she also has a demonstrated history of working as a health and social beat reporter in the newspapers industry. Jaya is a strong, dynamic and innovative media and communication professional with an MS in Journalism Research focused in Communication and Media Studies from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University, Athens, USA and an MA degree in Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata