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Measles outbreak kills at least 20 Afghan children

February 21, 2012 |  7:10 am

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Health officials Tuesday reported a deadly measles outbreak in rural western Afghanistan that they said was compounded by severe winter weather hampering access to the area.

At least 20 children have died of of measles and pneumonia in Ghor and Badghis provinces, according to Afghanistan’s Health Ministry and the World Health Organization.

Health officials urged vaccinations for all children ages 9 months to 15 years, especially for those living in the affected areas and surrounding provinces. But in rural Afghanistan, parents are sometimes reluctant to have their children vaccinated because of an abundance of conspiracy theories about the shots. Some think healthcare providers are spies, or that the vaccines are meant to sicken people or will result in sterilization.

As the outbreak has grown more serious, Afghan authorities and the WHO set up five temporary clinics and vaccinated more than 3,600 children in the outbreak zone, while treating more than 6,000 patients, health officials said.

Measles and complications arising from it are among the leading causes of child mortality in Afghanistan. The disease is completely preventable through vaccines, but the overall rate of immunization remains low, particularly in the countryside and in areas hard hit by the insurgency.

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-- Laura King

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