The Ministry of Health on Monday started a nationwide immunization campaign to protect 4 million children against measles and rubella, making it the largest such campaign in the country’s history, health officials said.
Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said at the program’s launch at Pur Senchey district’s Trapaing Krasaing primary school in Choam Chao commune that the campaign will target children aged 9 months to 15 years.
“With the introduction of the rubella vaccine by the National Immunization Program combined with the campaign to vaccinate all children up to 15 years, no child will be susceptible to rubella when they become an adult and are ready to start their own families,” Mr. Bunheng said.
Both viral diseases are contagious, spread via air droplets and are most commonly contracted by children. In malnourished children and people with low immunity, measles can lead to serious complications, including blindness and encephalitis—brain swelling usually resulting from an infection. Rubella infections just before conception and in early pregnancy may result in miscarriage or defects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Within the next three months, Mr. Bunheng said, a total of 4 million children will be vaccinated at primary schools in every commune, making it the largest campaign to date.
“Members of our health staff have done very well in every previous campaign, and I am sure they will do so again. It is important that this new measles-rubella vaccine reaches every child, especially those living in high risk, urban poor, remote and rural communities and ethnic and migrant populations,” he said.
Although Cambodia has not recorded any cases of measles in the past two years, rubella outbreaks still have long-term impacts on children’s health, said Pieter Van Maaren, WHO country representative.
“There have been recent outbreaks of rubella which have led to children being born with congenital rubella syndrome with the devastating effects of blindness, deafness and heart disease,” Mr. Van Maaren said.
The combined vaccine, Mr. Van Maaren said at the ceremony Monday, will lead to the extinction of both measles and rubella in Cambodia.
“Now that the ministry can combine the two vaccines for measles and rubella in one injection, there will be the double advantage of eliminating measles and rubella together from the country,” he said.
Before that is achieved, however, local staff of the provincial health departments had to vaccinate hundreds to thousands of children per day in each commune.
“One of our staff can do about 150 children in one day,” Dr. Im Sochhath, director of the Phnom Penh municipal health department’s operational district west, said while monitoring the start of the campaign at Trapaing Krasaing primary school, where 2,000 children were vaccinated Monday.
“In this school there are about 1,400 students but the children who are not in primary school yet came as well, and in some communes, we have to go to the houses too,” Dr. Sochhath said.
“I hope that the result of the campaign will be that more than 95 percent of children are covered,” he said.