Burma Govt’s Vaccination Campaigns Faces Criticism

By Zarni Mann 11 September 2013

RANGOON — A nationwide vaccination campaign to prevent a parasitic disease known as Elephantiasis is facing criticism in Burma, with patients saying the Ministry of Health encouraged them to get the vaccine without explaining possible side effects.

The campaign began on Monday to prevent Elephantiasis, a parasitic disease caused by roundworms that are transmitted to the human body mainly through mosquito bites. The worms can cause skin rashes, arthritis, abdominal pain and asthma-like suffocation. If left untreated, the skin and underlying tissue of a person’s legs and arms may thicken, causing mobility problems.

The ministry’s campaign group says Elephantiasis can be found in nine Southeast Asian countries, and about 200 townships in Burma have been affected. But the disease is much less common than dengue fever or malaria. In a random test of 3,000 people in Rangoon by the Department of Health this year, five people were found to have contracted Elephantiasis.

In some areas of the country, people say officials with the vaccination campaign described the risks of the disease but did not provide adequate information about the vaccine.

“I was not well informed about the medicine—I wasn’t told that I might experience a little dizziness after taking it,” a housewife in Mandalay’s Aung Myay Thar Zan Township told The Irrawaddy. “But my friends from other quarters were told that they might have some reaction, and they were told they must see the doctor if serious symptoms occurred.”

Another man from the same township complained that when he received his vaccine—taken as oral tablets—no nurses or health care experts were present. He received the vaccine from local leaders as well as social workers, who he said did not explain that the tablets could be harmful for people with high-blood pressure, diabetes or asthma.

He was also not told to give a smaller dose to his child. “I was given two tablets and a half tablet, and so was my 5-year-old son,” the father said. “Since I wasn’t sure about the medicine, I asked my family doctor and he said one of the tablets was Albendazole, used to treat roundworms, and should be taken separately. But I had been told [by the local leaders and social workers] that it was only a vitamin tablet to prevent dizziness.

“I did not trust the medicine at that point, so I did not take it.”

In some cases, the vaccination campaign has been more successful

“We were told that we might have dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting,” Ko Myo, a resident of Rangoon’s Kyauktada Township, told The Irrawaddy. “We were told that we must go and see the doctors if the symptom worsen. And they asked our health history and checked whether we have high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma, or if we are pregnant or lactating.”

Doctors and the pharmacists have urged vaccination campaign workers to be precise with instructions about the Albendazole and the vaccine, known as Diethylcarbamazine (Citrate).

“The nurses or health care experts need to make sure the proper amount is given, and make sure people are not overdosing,” a physician from Rangoon General Hospital said. “In some cases, some individuals might need to take Albendazole first. And campaigners must inquire about the health history of people first.

“They must also tell people about the side effects of the vaccine, and warn people with high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. Pregnant women, lactating mothers, infants and people with chronic diseases such as liver infection, kidney problems and heart disease should avoid the vaccine, because it can cause life-threatening side effects such as acute inflammation of the brain, visual loss, disorder of the eye due to bleeding in the retina, and severe skin allergy.”

Dr. Phyo Phyo Kyaw, an official from the campaign, told The Irrawaddy last week that there was not an outbreak of Elephantiasis in the country, but that the vaccination campaign was undertaken annually as a precaution.

“We’ve been making this campaign yearly for 10 years. The vaccine is to be taken once a year for five consecutive years. We have some difficulties in giving medicine to the people, because some people are moving around every year, so it’s not always possible for them to get the medicine for five consecutive years.”