The sudden rise in the number of measles cases in Kenya have resulted in about one and a half million Kenyan children at a risk of contracting measles.
According to Dr. James Kisia, Kenya Red Cross's Head of Health & Social Services the sudden upsurge of measles cases is mainly to be blamed on the poor immunization coverage, existing drought, and high rate of malnutrition among children. He also blamed the illiteracy and 'laxity among parents to take their children for immunization against the disease'.
Tourists from neighboring countries are also to be blamed for the outbreak of measles in Kenya. North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces have reported cases of measles which has heightened fears of an outbreak of measles in other parts of the country as well.
Kenya had undertaken the immunization of all its children below 1year of age through the routine Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunisation (KEPI). This was done in order to achieve its national goal of reducing morbidity due to measles by 90% and case mortality by 95% by 2005.
In addition ensuring two doses of measles vaccine through routine and supplemental activities has also lowered the number of confirmed measles cases.
However, 1.75 million children of the Kenyan population of 3.9 million below 1 year of age have not been immunized against measles and are therefore susceptible to the virus.
Dr. James Nyikal, Kenya's Director of Medical Services reports that almost 35% of newborns are not being immunized leading to a population of about a half a million unvaccinated children.
The national mass measles vaccination campaign that had been scheduled for 2005 was not conducted thereby aggravating the situation further.
The Kenya Red Cross Society plans to take part in the government-organized immunisation campaigns in the districts of Marsabit, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, Isiolo and Nairobi/Kibera where outbreaks of the disease has been reported. This is the first phase of the campaign, from 29th April to 5th May 2006, that would serve as an emergency response. The second phase, to be commenced in June plans to target children across Kenya.
The two phases of the measles countrywide campaign is expected to cost the government Ksh 530 million.
The government has also planned to include polio immunization along with the measles vaccination to overcome the rising threat of polio from its neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. This will be accompanied by Vitamin A supplement as well to enhance resistance against diseases.