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The East African : May 12th 2014
30 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK MAY 10-16,2014 S CI E N C E ing child mortality. Immunisation against measles, for instance, prevented 14 million deaths in children between 2000 and 2012, according to Unicef. East African countries are not safe. Last year, 194 cases of wild polio were reported in a camp in Somalia. The virus spread to Kenya and Ethiopia, which registered 14 and 10 cases respectively. Neighbouring countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Djibouti, Eritrea and Tanzania were all put on alert. Polio kills and survivors remain crippled. “Uganda has seen sporadic mea- sles outbreaks. Recently, Kenya and Somali had polio outbreaks, and the Ministry of Health had to vaccinate all persons along the common borders,” said Dr Ruth Aceng, Director General for Health Services. “We do not want to have any more deaths that we can prevent.” Vaccinate all children This is not the first time Uganda A child receives a measles vaccine jab at Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Conflicts in the region have been blamed for the re-emergence of some communicable diseases. Picture: File Public health concerns as wars help spread disease Expe≥ts blame ≥esu≥gence of kille≥ diseases on insecu≥ity, which is hampe≥ing immunisation By HALIMA ABDALLAH Special Correspondent T he ongoing conflicts in some countries are worsening immu- nisation coverage in sub-Saharan Africa, with some countries facing the re-emergence of eliminated killer diseases. One of the diseases, maternal and neo-natal tetanus, had been eliminated in 34 out of 59 high-risk countries, most of which are in Africa, according to Unicef’s progress report of 2013 released two weeks ago. Health experts attribute the resurgence of the disease to insecu- rity, which is hampering immunisation efforts in conflict areas. The fleeing families carry the disease causing agents to the communities where they take refuge. “There is a resurgence of polio in Iraq, Syria, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia. Burundi is still performing below 60 per cent. The least we can do is to ensure that all our children are fully immunised,” said Andrew Bakainaga, WHO Country Advisor in Uganda. Immunisation involves injecting antibodies in children at least five times before their first birthday. These injections provide a lifetime protection against viruses, germs and bacteria that cause polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type B and pneumonia, all of which kill. Immunisation is an effective public health intervention that can enhance the achievement of Millennium Development Goals on reduc- “Recently, Kenya and Somali had polio outbreaks, and the Ministry of Health had to vaccinate all persons along the common borders.” Dr Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s Director General for Health Services is carrying out supplementary immunisation. Last year, the ministry had to vaccinate all children against polio and measles in addition to provision of vitamin A supplements in northern Uganda and areas bordering with Democratic Republic of Congo. This was intended to prevent any possible infection from South Sudanese and Congolese refugees. In 2008, when the government was about to announce that it had kicked polio out of Uganda, a strain of the virus was traced to South Sudan. The re-emergence of these dis- eases reverses the gains made by some countries in improving vaccination coverage. WHO has named South Africa as leading in immunisation coverage followed by Uganda in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are performing well too. The continent marked the Af- rican Vaccination Week between April 21 and 30. The campaign was intended to create awareness about the importance of vaccination. The theme for this year’s cam- paign was “Vaccination, a shared responsibility.” BRIEFS A pill a day keeps malaria away in West Africa A new way to prevent malaria in areas where it waxes and wanes with the weather appears to be working in West Africa, the medical aid organisation Medicins sans Frontieres said last week. Seasonal malaria chemoprevention involves giving children regular doses of malaria medicine during the rainy season when mosquitoes are everywhere. The doses are too small to cure malaria, but studies by the organisation in Mali and Chad showed that they reduced both simple infections and severe malaria by more than 70 per cent. Once a month during the July to October rainy season, children got blister packs with one pill containing the drugs sulfadoxine and pyrimethamine, and three pills with amodiaquine, all to be taken within three days. The drugs cost only 25 US cents. The World Health Organisation recommends the drug regimen for the Sahel, the semi-arid region along the southern border of the Sahara. Young children there may get malaria three times a year, with each bout killing more of their red blood cells, said Dr Estrella Lasry, a tropical disease specialist for MSF. Tanzanian inspectors trained in biosafety Cance≥ vaccine p≥oves e≠ective in HIV patients By DONALD G. MCNEIL JR New York Times News Service VACCINES AGAINST cervical cancer work well even in sexually active women with HIV, a new study shows. It also found that women who have one or two strains of the cancer-causing virus can be protected against others. The discovery is important because cervical cancer has emerged as a major killer of young and middle-aged women in poor countries with widespread Aids and little ability to do routine pap smears or similar tests. Cancers appear earlier and grow faster in women with suppressed immune systems. The new study, done on 319 women in Brazil, South Africa and the United States and published by Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that most could make antibodies to the four strains of human papilloma virus in the Gardasil vaccine US-based infectious diseases specialist at Brown University’s medical school and the study’s lead author. Most vaccines do not work well in immune-suppressed people because antibodies are made by the immune system. In the West, parents are urged to give the vac- cine to their daughters before they become sexually active. “We saw it differently,” Ms Kojic said. Women with HIV, she said, “bear the biggest burden, so if it worked, they would benefit the most from it.” She was proved right. Women who were in- Cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. It works well even in women with HIV, a new study shows. even if they had had HIV for years. Sceptics assumed that would not happen, and argued that vaccinating those women would be a waste of money, said Erna Milunka Kojic, a fected with HIV fairly recently developed antibodies in more than 90 per cent of cases. Even women whose infection had progressed into Aids developed antibodies more than 75 per cent of the time. Also, women who already had one or more of Gardasil’s four HPV strains were able to develop antibodies to the others. Tanzania has started training biosafety inspectors in genetic engineering. Roshan Abdallah, country co-ordinator of Programme for Bio Safety Systems, said that although there is resistance to genetically modified crops, people need to know that agriculture is becoming susceptible to the effects of climate change, new diseases and drought. Abdallah said crop production has been going down, hence the need for GM technology. Tanzanian researchers are working on GM cassava in Dodoma. Scientists close to making effective measles drug An experimental antiviral drug taken orally could help to eradicate measles, an infection responsible for thousands of deaths each year, scientists have said. The drug, so far tested on animals, has been effective on a virus closely related to the one that causes measles. Researchers tested ERDRP-0519 on the canine distemper virus, which is deadly in ferrets. It blocked replication of the pathogen and allowed the animals to survive infection, remain disease-free and develop a robust immunity against the virus.
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