Cambodia is on track to completely eliminate measles nationwide, with the National Immunization Program reporting zero cases of the disease for a full 12-month period last year, the Ministry of Health said in a statement yesterday.
“I am confident that Cambodia can maintain its achievement of having no measles cases for another two years, so that the country can be certified as measles-free by [the World Health Organization],” said Cambodia’s WHO representative, Dr. Pieter van Maaren, in the statement.
While measles, a highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease, does not cause death directly, health complications arising from the virus—such as pneumonia, diarrhea and encephalitis—can be fatal.
According to data from the WHO, there were 722 confirmed cases of the virus in 2011, with the most recent occurring in Kompong Speu province in November 2011. Compared to other countries in the region, such as Vietnam where more than 400 measles cases were recorded in 2012, Cambodia has been making steady progress toward eradicating the disease.
Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said that mass vaccination campaigns as well as routine immunizations implemented by the government have contributed to the significant drop in measles cases last year.
Currently, the government provides free measles vaccinations to all children under the age of 2. In May last year, the Ministry of Health introduced a program to provide a second measles vaccine dose for children at 18 months, because, while one dose of the vaccine is usually sufficient, a second dose provides the best level of protection.
“To make sure we get rid of measles permanently, the Ministry of Health is making great efforts to continue to reach children and mothers with immunization services, wherever they live,” Mr. Bunheng said in the statement.
Ung Rattana, deputy director of the Ratanakkiri provincial health department, said yesterday that his department did not reach all the children eligible to receive the vaccine last year. “We just provided the vaccine to 87 percent of the 5,600 children [in the province] aged under 1 year old,” he said.
Richard Duncan, a technical officer for the WHO’s Expanded Program on Immunization, said that his program has focused on these communities identified as high risk, including the urban poor, migrant workers and ethnic minorities.
“We found that children in these communities were more likely to miss out on the measles immunization,” said Mr. Duncan, adding that last year the program targeted children in Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Battambang provinces.
“This involved ensuring that the health workers had sufficient resources to visit the areas at least four times a year. This can be particularly difficult in provinces like Ratanakkiri because the roads are often inaccessible in the wet season.”
In addition to strengthening health service delivery in the rural areas, Mr. Duncan highlighted the problem of community understanding and acceptance.
“Even when the immunizations are free, some families, especially ethnic minorities, have refused to allow their children to be vaccinated as they do not understand the program.”