WESTERN PACIFIC MEETING FOCUSES ON FIGHT AGAINST MEASLES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 2, 2002 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---A meeting of Western Pacific measles experts has convened at the National Institute of Health in Seoul, South Korea.

The meeting comes as both Guam and Papua New Guinea face outbreaks of measles, which can lead to encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can cause deafness, mental retardation and even death.

The Seoul meeting is discussing measles control strategies in the Western Pacific Region.

The agenda will cover all the major regional measles control issues, including the burden of measles disease, measles vaccine programs, and the impact and cost of different control strategies.

Measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in children.

Approximately 875,000 children died globally in 2001 as a result of measles infection, including about 20,000 in the region.

In August 2001, a Regional Plan of Action was presented to the Technical Advisory Group on the Expanded Program on Immunization and Poliomyelitis Eradication in the Western Pacific Region.

There is consensus that measles vaccine can prevent this illness, suffering and death.

However, there is considerable debate about the use of a one-dose or two-dose schedule routine vaccine delivery.

In Papua New Guinea, measles infected children will continue to die and nothing can be done to prevent deaths, according to expert medical advice in Papua New Guinea.

Chief Executive Officer of the Mount Hagen General Hospital James Kintwa said since January, 100 children had died from other diseases due to shortage of pharmaceuticals and about two children were dying daily province-wide.

Six containers of drugs were sitting on Lae wharf awaiting release by Customs until last week when Treasury released the funds, according to Health Department sources.

Measles-infected children will continue to die if they have not been vaccinated, according to experts who commented on the outbreak in Western Highlands province. There, 41 children have died in Mt. Hagen General Hospital.

If children were not vaccinated against measles between the ages of six to nine months, they will die if infected, according to a medical expert.

"Even tomorrow, kids will die because they were not vaccinated," said a Health Department source.

He said a majority of the children throughout PNG, up to 80 percent, have been vaccinated against measles.

Those dying in Western Highlands and at the Mt. Hagen General Hospital are children who were not vaccinated about two years ago when they were six to nine months old.

"Where were the provincial health authorities and the provincial government two to three years ago?" another health official asked.

"Did they carry out vaccination of the children?

"Was there enough measles vaccines at that time? Some of these questions must be asked at the provincial level."

A measles infected child cannot be treated with vaccines when they are sick. "It's simply too late at this stage," he said.

A total of 30,000 doses were flown to Mt. Hagen and arrived on Thursday last week.

This supply is for children between six to nine months old that are eligible for vaccination.

Australian government officials were meeting with Health Minister Tommy Tomscoll in Port Moresby to discuss the drug-shortage problems in hospitals throughout Papua New Guinea.

The meeting between Mr. Tomscoll and officers from the Australian High Commission aims to deal with the drug shortage problems for which the Minister had blamed AusAID for supposedly not delivering on their commitment of K 30 million (US$ 8,262,000) in supplies.

But the Australian High Commission and AusAID team in PNG shifted the blame back to the Health Department, saying there were sufficient funds in the Department of Health to purchase drugs.

Some drugs -- except IV fluids and antibiotics -- were purchased last week and sent to hospitals desperately in need, including the Port Moresby and Mt. Hagen general hospitals.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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