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Uganda introduces Measles, Rubella combination vaccine

FILE PHOTO: A health worker administer medicine to a child

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Health Ministry has launched a new combination vaccine for both measles and rubella. The two diseases display similar symptoms of fever and skin rash, and both are highly contagious.

Measles can be deadly for children with poor nutrition and a weakened immune system and causes about 430 deaths per day worldwide, mainly in developing countries. On the other hand, Rubella may cause miscarriage, heart problems, deafness and blindness, or severe birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome, if a woman contracts it during the first trimester of pregnancy. An estimated 100,000 children around the world are born with this syndrome each year.

Now the ministry says that in order to tame the deadly infections, a dual vaccine will be administered to children at 12 months of age with effect from next year. The launch of the vaccine was announced during a meeting held at Fairway Hotel in Kampala.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of persistent outbreaks of measles in different parts of the country. The latest outbreak is in the district of Kiryandongo and Mbale, where scores of children’s lives have been lost.

Findings from investigations carried out by the health ministry to determine the scope of measles and rubella outbreaks in the country since 2017 to date show that out of 95 districts, 10 were found to have rubella outbreaks while 26 had a combination of both the diseases. 59 districts in the country were estimated to have only measles.

The program manager for the Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunization, Dr Bernard Opar says that government is going to administer the combination vaccine as one injection and is optimistic that the development will cut down the number of infections and outbreaks.

Dr Opar says that Uganda has not been immunizing against Rubella because it was not considered a health threat before.

“Until recently, rubella has not been considered as a health threat and immunizing against it did not appear as a priority intervention but now it is obvious after the studies that we need the vaccine,” Dr Opar says. He adds that the numbers are high and the disease needs to be eliminated like any other vaccine preventable disease.

Dr Anne Akullo, a pediatrician and an immunization coordinator under the Uganda Pediatricians Association says that the combination vaccination will protect unborn children from malformations that can be an effect of a pregnant woman developing the disease.

Rwanda became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to use the combination vaccine in 2013, despite it being introduced to the world as early as 1971.

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