Almost every child in UAE immunised against measles: WHO report

While in 1990 just 80 per cent of children were vaccinated against the potentially deadly disease, the UAE has now achieved a 94 per cent success rate — above World Health Organisation targets.

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ABU DHABI // Almost every child in the UAE is immunised against measles, giving the country one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

The UAE has now achieved a 94 per cent success rate – surpassing the 90 per cent global target set by the World Health Organisation.

“Measles can be a serious disease and it is imperative that children are vaccinated,” said Dr Maha Eldohemy, a specialist paediatrician at Danat Al Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“It is reassuring to see that UAE residents take their children’s healthcare seriously and follow the government’s recommended immunisation plan.”

The rate of infectious disease cases in the UAE, such as measles, has dropped significantly since the launch of the National Immunisation Programme. It was set up in 1980 to vaccinate children under the age of two.

The three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab is given automatically to children in the UAE as part of the programme.

“The key driver in the success of the immunisation in the UAE has of course been the government funding in providing free vaccinations for children under two,” Dr Eldohemy said. “All obligatory vaccines, which include MMR, are free in government hospitals for both UAE nationals and residents.”

As vaccines are freely available in the UAE, Dr Eldohemy said the government had done its bit to get to 100 per cent immunisation but parents also needed to ensure their children were vaccinated.

“I reason that people are either not aware of the government programme or they simply choose not to have their child vaccinated,” Dr Eldohemy said.

Dr Marwa Abdelafattah, a specialist paediatrician at Brightpoint Royal Women’s Hospital, welcomed the results.

“Measles is an extremely contagious viral infection which presents with fever and rash, and is something we must avoid putting children through as is can be more serious than most people may think. Children with measles can develop complications including ear infections, pneumonia or diarrhoea, and the disease can also be fatal. Immunisation is the best and easiest way to protect against this disease.”

Some children, however, are still not immunised, either because they have some sort of contraindication to the vaccination or because of parent refusal, she said.

“Contraindications to the measles vaccine include children suffering from cancer or leukaemia and other conditions that suppress the immune suppressed.

“On the other hand, some parents refrain from vaccinating their children because they are misinformed about the link between measles vaccines and autism or bowel disease. Such theories are totally unsubstantiated and have no scientific backing.”

Parents not being aware of the importance of vaccination, health fears over vaccination and some children slipping through the net during migration between countries are among the reasons to blame for some children not being immunised, said Dr Maya Prabhakaran, a specialist in paediatrics at LLH Hospital.

Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children, despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine.

Vaccinations resulted in a 75 per cent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide – preventing about 15.6 million deaths, the WHO said.