India has the second highest number of children unvaccinated against measles. This is despite government campaigns to boost immunisation against the disease.
2.9 million children remain unvaccinated in India, estimates say. India is only surpassed by Nigeria, which holds 3.3 million unvaccinated children. Four other countries account for more than half of all children who have not been vaccinated: Pakistan, with 2 million, Indonesia with 1.2 million, Ethiopia with 0.9 million and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 0.7 million.
Although measles has been considerably reduced in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) still records 90,000 deaths per year. Since 2000, there has been an 84 percent reduction in measles related deaths, dropping from 550,000. This is testament to the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns .
The vast majority of deaths due to measles occur in those nations where vaccination coverage is inadequate. More than half of the unvaccinated children reside in only six countries. These nations have become hotbeds for the disease.
It is no coincidence that the reduction of deaths follows on from an increased number of people being vaccinated. In the opinion of the WHO, however, the coverage must be increased to around 95 percent to have any hope of eradicating measles.
Despite this, “coverage with the first of two required doses of measles vaccine has stalled at approximately 85% since 2009”, says a joint report by the by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and the WHO.This is “far short of the 95% coverage needed to stop measles infections”, the report adds.
India needs to commit to extended vaccination drives in order for measles eradication to become a reality. These drives must be provided in rural environments. India has run effective vaccination campaigns in the past. Over the course of their campaign against polio, the public profile of celebrities was utilised. Alongside this, local religious leaders in rural communities were enlisted to ensure a grassroots presence of the campaign. Experts say that if India were to follow the same steps with measles, it might see huge success in reducing cases of the disease.
Some states are initiating measles and rubella (MR) immunisation drives. Kerala for example is extending the deadlines of the campaign hoping to achieve better results. Some districts saw disappointing reception, and so the number of vaccinations provided by the campaign was far lower than expected. The Kerala government has partly attributed this to an anti-vaccination campaign that is underway in some areas.
Opposition from anti-vaccination activists is not a phenomenon unique to India. The movement has been gaining traction in both the US and Europe. In order to address this, information campaigns may aid the uptake of vaccinations. Combined with extensive vaccination drives on a national level, India could address low levels of immunisation coverage.