Measles in Afghanistan: Kills 74 kids.
You might have noticed that I’ve been writing more about Measles and featuring guests on my podcasts to talk about topics related to Measles. It’s because I could see Measles making a comeback in a variety of ways, partially due to fear over COVID vaccines.
Most recently, Blima Marcus, an oncology nurse who lives in an orthodox religious community, came on my Causes or Cures podcast to discuss how she is addressing concerns about the Mealses vaccine. Her community recently experienced an outbreak of Measles due to low vaccination rates. In the podcast she talks about her public health initiative to address the low vaccination rate and also how she interacts with people in her community who think very differently than she does about the necessity of the Measles vaccine. (The Measles vaccine is part of the MMR vaccine routinely given during childhood.) I’ve always been very interested in public health initiatives like Blima’s because they are 1) grassroots (meaning someone took the initiative to do something and didn’t wait for a large organization or government to fund a program) 2) community-based and run by someone who knows/lives in the community 3) creative by design. Historically, there isn’t a lot of funding put forth for public health initiatives. While we see a lot of things being funded related to COVID-19, before the pandemic, public health money was always scarce. And, as you can imagine, it’s hard to set up population-based health initiatives when you don’t have the funding to do it or pay the staff to oversee it.
My other recent podcast guest was Dr. Barrios Morales, a physicist from Spain, who recently published a study on how immune amnesia in the aftermath of a Measles infection would impact immunity for another virus, for example COVID-19. Not many people know about immune amnesia as it relates to Measles, but basically Measles can wipe out your immune memory cells to other viruses. How crazy is that? It’s like a potential plot for the apocalypse. Once it wipes out those immune cells, you lose your protection against other viruses. Anyhow, it’s fascinating in a sci-fi-scary-kind-of-way, so if you dare, listen to the podcast here.
But let’s talk about measles in Afghanistan and the kids who are dying, because in the US, we don’t think about kids dying of the disease. For now, we have a relatively high Measles vaccination rate, so you don’t often hear about vaccinated kids dying from Measles in the states. It could happen one day if our vaccination rates plummet, but luckily it hasn’t happened yet. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many other countries that lack access to the Measles vaccine for one reason or another and on top of that, have a poor healthcare system. Why is there poor access? It really depends. I’ve worked on country-level immunization strategic plans for different countries, and there are different reasons for each country and there are different solutions or each country. For example, in one country, a clinical trial that went poorly, and one not necessarily related to vaccines, might have scared people in not wanting to get vaccinated. In another, you might have to convince the male figures of the society, because they make all the decisions for their wives and kids. So much of public health is knowing your target population and coming up with a solution that works for them. And it won’t be a perfect solution, because there are no perfect solutions.
Either way, hearing that Measles killed 74 kids in Afghanistan is heartbreaking. And frustrating, because we know those deaths were preventable. The deaths occurred in Afghanistan’s northern province of Badakhshan and most of the kids who got Measles and died lived in areas with few public health workers. Afghanistan is also one two countries (the other being Pakistan) where Polio is endemic. They just had their first polio vaccination campaign of 2022 in which millions of kids received the polio shot. Part of the reason polio is still a problem in those two countries is because our CIA wrongfully used vaccination campaigns in Pakistan to gain intel on Osama Bin Laden. It’s shameful that our government did that, but if you are interested, you can read more about that here.
In addition to reading about Measles in Afghanistan, I invite you guys to listen to the podcasts episodes mentioned above.
You can also read about the recent Measles outbreak in Cameroon here. It’s sad, because, well… kids.
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