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Somalia, 24 November 2016: Measles outbreak challenges an already overwhelmed hospital in Kismayo

352 measles cases recorded, most of them children

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
Two young measles patients at Kismayo General Hospital in Kismayo, Somalia. The hospital’s cholera treatment centre, has been turned into a measles ward for children suffering from the highly contagious disease.

 
Kismayo, Somalia, 24 November 2016 – The cholera treatment centre at Kismayo General Hospital, the biggest hospital in Kismayo hadn’t had any patients since the last round of outbreak was brought under control. But lately it has again been inundated with patients. This time, it is measles. To date, 352 measles cases have been officially recorded, 250 of which are children under-five.

Lying on mattresses on the floor are dozens of children. Most of them are sleeping with their bodies curled up - oblivious of the heat and flies. Some have visibly swollen eyes, leaking pus from their eyes and nose. If awake, they look dazed and listless.

Among them are Maryan, eight months, and her brother Maseuud, one year and eight months. Maryan breathes rapidly and has contracted pneumonia, a severe complication caused by measles, while Maseuud has a rash all over his body. The children are accompanied by their mother, Maano.

“They have had a fever for 10 days, and also vomiting, coughing and congested chests,” says Maano. “We brought them here two days ago. It was only when we got here we realized that it was measles.”

On a mattress across from them is Sahra and two of her children, Nasra, 3, and Abdirahman, 4. Both children are sleeping as if exhausted. They arrived today after being ill for more than a week.

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
Hussein Kassim Ali, director of Kismayo hospital in South Somalia, examines Maryan, eight months, lying on her mother’s lap, and her brother Maseuud. Both children are suffering from measles and Maryan also has pneumonia, a severe complication.

“I took them to a private clinic and they thought it was malaria and gave us some medications,” says Sahra. “Then they started having rashes and itching eyes. A neighbour told me that it could be measles, so I rushed them here.”

When asked whether the children have ever been immunized, the mothers both answer “No.”
 

“We need help”

Hussein Kassim Ali, director of the hospital, is confronted with some big challenges these days. The hospital’s maternity wing is on the verge of being closed due to a funding gap from its donors. Now to make matters worse, he’s coping with the measles outbreak, and a possible seasonal increase in diarrhoea cases.

He is troubled by the fact that most of these mothers have never had their children immunized even though there are 16 free vaccination posts in town.

“We need to be prepared for the worst case scenario,” says Mr Ali. “We need mass vaccination campaigns. Communities need to be mobilized, vaccines need to be stocked up. We need help!”

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and a major cause of death among young children in Somalia. It can lead to pneumonia, diarrhoea, encephalitis which causes brain swelling, and blindness but can be prevented effectively with vaccination.

UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health from the regional Jubaland authorities and the Federal Government along with the International Red Cross, WHO and other partners on a mass vaccination campaign. Some 5,500 vials of measles vaccines will soon be delivered to Kismayo for the campaign along with vitamin A supplements to boost children’s immunity.

 

 
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