Three more children reportedly died over the weekend in the eastern region of the Naga Self-Administered Zone after contracting measles, raising the number of victims of the recent outbreak to 41.
“The total number of those who have died has reached 41,” said Thein Zaw, the assistant director of the Naga Self-Administered Zone, who confirmed that the once-mysterious illness has been identified as measles. “Now, we almost have control over the situation.”
Thein Zaw told The Irrawaddy that approximately 100 people have been infected by the disease from two townships, Lahe and Nanyun; the vast majority are from Lahe, with 15 patients reportedly from Nanyun.
On August 5—after media, including The Irrawaddy, reported on the outbreak, relaying what was locally perceived as an ineffective governmental response—authorities from the Naga Self-Administered Zone sent around 20 medics to the Lahe village of Thankholama to treat the victims and identify the illness. After locals tested positive for measles, the medics began administering vaccines to villagers on Saturday, August 6; it was in Thankholama where the disease first appeared in June.
“The medics gave out vaccines in the villages where the disease broke out, and even gave vaccines to [other] villagers who stay in the nearby area,” Thein Zaw said.
Lahe Township’s Naw Aung Sann, the general secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs, said that of the three children who passed away on August 6 and 7, one was two years old and another was a two-month-old baby. Both victims were from Thankholama village, where The Irrawaddy reported on August 5 that most of the community’s 50 households had been affected by the outbreak. At the time of reporting, no information was available about the third young victim.
Naw Aung Sann said that both the medics and the authorities had stopped villagers from traveling outside of their communities, lest they possibly spread the disease to other unvaccinated individuals.
The rural areas of Lahe and Nanyun townships have little to no health care or transportation infrastructure, and are incredibly difficult to access. The Naga Self-Administered Zone, populated by the Naga ethnic group, is considered one of the poorest and most under-developed areas in Burma.
“The government has not been able to provide enough medics, and no one wants to stay in these areas, as it is hard to live and travel there. So the local people have poor knowledge of health care,” Naw Aung Sann explained.
“If the government could have provided vaccines on time, measles would not have broken out,” he added.
Measles is caused by a virus and spreads when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, making it highly contagious. It is widely prevented by the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is delivered in infancy. According to the World Health Organization, high rates of vaccination worldwide have greatly reduced the number of outbreaks, but deaths from measles still occur throughout Africa and Asia. Treatment includes supportive care, such as rehydration and control of the patient’s fever.