TNIE nails Telangana health department’s lies on measles outbreak  

Experts say that Telangana reported a huge epidemic just like other states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat in October-November 2022.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo | AP )
Image used for representational purpose only. (File Photo | AP )

HYDERABAD: The health department has acknowledged that Telangana experienced one outbreak of measles since February this year. In response to RTI queries filed by TNIE, the office of the Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare said that the State had reported 1,092 measles-positive cases and two deaths between November 2022 and April 2023. Experts in the State suggest that the actual count might be three times more.

The commissionerate’s response highlighted that out of the total positive cases, 20 per cent were ineligible for the 1st dose of the MR vaccine as they were less than nine months old. The remaining children received both vaccine doses. The outbreak was contained by administering an additional MR vaccine dose and vitamin A to the children aged between 6 months and five years, it added.

TNIE blew the lid off the outbreak of deadly measles after talking to experts and paediatricians in April. However, health officials then attributed the increased cases to ‘rampant surveillance’ or over-reporting of cases of fever and/or rashes. Around April 18, this reporter filed an RTI seeking data regarding measles cases, casualties and the status of vaccination. A first appeal was also filed on July 14. After five months, an inadequate response was received from the department.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a US government agency, three confirmed cases per 1,00,000 population in a certain period of time is called an outbreak. Experts say that according to this definition, Telangana reported a huge epidemic just like other states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat during October-November 2022. As per the data revealed in Rajya Sabha recently, a total of 99 casualties were reported all over the country with Telangana reporting 148 cases and one death.  

Speaking to TNIE,  Dr Srikant Manda, a paediatrician in Hyderabad and an executive board member of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), said that most of the time deaths happen due to complications and, therefore, they cannot be categorised as measles deaths. “Such cases may be reported as death due to pneumonia or brain fever. In most cases, the patient does not get tested for measles resulting in the problem being attributed to some other infection,” he said adding that testing for measles commenced very late in Telangana.

He suspects that the infection rate was higher among the underprivileged children of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, where most of them were not vaccinated. “If 80 per cent of children have got both doses, it means herd immunity has been achieved. In that case, the outbreak would have never occurred in the first place,” Dr Manda asserted. He attributed the outbreak to children missing vaccine doses during the Covid-19 pandemic. To prevent such an outbreak he emphasised the urgent necessity of conducting statewide vaccination drives.

State staff overburdened

Experts are of the opinion that the State staff is overburdened with a lot of healthcare programmes and there is no good epidemiology team available for early detection of the epidemic, which would have prevented the outbreak.

Poor vaccine coverage reason for outbreaks: UN body

In one of its statements, the United Nations Children’s Fund has already said that insufficient measles vaccine coverage is the major reason for outbreaks. The undernourished are more prone to developing complications and dying. It has also expressed concern that measles could also forewarn outbreaks of other diseases that do not spread as rapidly.

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