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New measles immunisation effort to counter outbreaks

A boy gets a vaccination done at a school in Phnom Penh in 2013.
A boy gets a vaccination done at a school in Phnom Penh in 2013. Vireak Mai

New measles immunisation effort to counter outbreaks

Cambodia’s National Immunization Program hopes to vaccinate some 1.6 million children – aged 6 months to 59 months – as part of a $1.5 million measles-rubella vaccination campaign to deal with ongoing measles outbreaks, an official said yesterday.

Ork Vichit, manager of the program, said the country had planned to carry out the campaign in October, but given recent cases, and families travelling for the upcoming Khmer New Year, the vaccination activities had been brought forward to prevent further spread.

“The reason [for the campaign] is to try to contain the virus,” he said. “Cambodia has been certified as having eliminated measles, and after that, 65 cases have been found.”

In 2015, Cambodia was declared to be measles-free by the World Health Organization. However, in January 2016, the first new case cropped up in Kampong Speu province, and since then, others have followed.

By WHO guidelines, one single measles case in countries that had been deemed as having eliminated the virus is considered an outbreak, Vichit said. Samples for four recent cases found in Koh Kong province are currently being tested.

The strains found have been imported from other countries, with infections carrying a strain from Thailand more recently, Vichit said, which is likely to be the same strain in the Koh Kong cases it’s near the border.

The two-phase campaign will target 15 provinces first, including Phnom Penh, which kicked off the vaccination activities on Monday and will continue through Wednesday. The campaign will then carry on to other provinces though early May.

Vichit said WHO, UNICEF and GAVI, a vaccination non-profit, are providing assistance for the campaign. UNICEF spokesman Bunly Meas said UNICEF supports vaccine procurement and equipment, such as auto disposable syringes, which are prequalified by WHO. It is also carrying out technical field monitoring to follow up on the rollout of the campaign.

“The vaccination is crucial in stopping measles and rubella viruses from spreading further,” he said. “A combined vaccine ‘measles-rubella [MR]’ will be used in the campaign.”

It’s essential that children, who have already received one or more doses of measles or the MR vaccine, get an additional dose during the campaign, he said.

GAVI spokeswoman Iryna Mazur said the organisation is supporting the campaign with a contribution of $2.1 million for vaccines and operational costs.

“We are providing 1.8 million doses of vaccines,” she said.

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