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Kazakhstan: Mass measles & rubella immunization

Mass immunization campaign against measles and rubella in Kazakhstan

1.5 million young people to be immunized in two weeks

ASTANA, KASAKHSTAN,18 February 2005 - Almost 1.5 million young people aged 15 – 25 will be immunized against measles and rubella between 21 February and 7 March in Kazakhstan, the Minister of Health announced today. The mass immunization campaign against Measles and Rubella will cover the entire country to stop an outbreak of measles that began in September 2004. The campaign is supported by UNICEF, WHO, CDC and CIDA.

The main targets include students, education and health workers, the military and those in detention. All are at high risk because they live, study or work in large groups that allow the rapid spread of infections.

Routine immunization in Kazakhstan had succeeded in reducing measles cases by 58 per cent between 1990 and 2003. But this progress has been threatened by the recent outbreak of measles. So far, more than 9,000 cases have been reported among high-risk groups, 50 per cent of them in the city of Almaty and many in East Kazakhstan and Almaty oblasts. The campaign aims to stop the outbreak in its tracks.

“Ten thousand vaccination centres are being equipped and 10,616 skilled immunization workers mobilized for the campaign,” says Mr Belonog, the Deputy Minister of Health, the Head of the State Sanitary Department. “1.7 million doses of measles and rubella vaccines have been purchased and delivered across the country. Seminars on possible side-effects and post-vaccine complications have been conducted at national and regional levels. We are ready.”

UNICEF is supporting the Government campaign by supplying auto-disable syringes and safety boxes, and has prepared education materials such as posters, leaflets and a TV spot. UNICEF has also conducted a seminar for media to raise their awareness about the campaign and forge a partnership between journalists and health officials for the campaign.

“We expect that the campaign will effectively stop the outbreak of measles disease in Kazakhstan,” says Mr Alexandre Zouev, UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan. “It will be a step towards the regional goal of elimination of measles by 2007. We are also supporting the government in sustaining routine measles coverage rate and in catch-up campaigns to reach children under the age of five who have not yet been immunized. And we welcome the Government’s introduction of Rubella vaccination into the routine immunization calendar to protect the children of Kazakhstan from this dangerous disease.”

Between 10,000 and 30,000 people contract Rubella In Kazakhstan each year, but given the poor diagnostic facilities, the real numbers may be even higher. In 2004, 15,104 cases of rubella disease were reported.

WHO and CDC have provided technical assistance to the Government of Kazakhstan in an investigation on the recent outbreak of measles and in planning the immunization campaign. A number of national and regional seminars for health workers on safety of immunization have also been organized with the support of WHO/CDC.

Measles, the viral respiratory infection, remains the most deadly vaccine-preventable childhood disease killing over 770 000 children in 2001 globally. Measles weakens the immune system and renders children very susceptible to fatal complications from diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. Those that survive may suffer blindness, deafness or brain damage.

Rubella, a disease that causes a mild rash if contracted in childhood, often leads to serious and sometimes fatal complications in the unborn child when a previously uninfected woman acquires the infection early in pregnancy. Congenital rubella infections are preventable through immunization.

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