Health Protection Agency (HPA) has revealed that the recent measles outbreak was caused by an increase in unvaccinated people in the country.
While speaking at a panel discussion jointly held by the Ministry of Health and HPA regarding the recent measles outbreak, Dr Ibrahim Afzal of HPA stated that there are still many people unvaccinated against measles despite the eradication of the disease in 2017.
Dr Afzal further highlighted that measles infections are still common in neighboring countries, which puts the Maldives at risk due to the country's high tourist arrival rate. However, the outbreak could have been prevented if 90-95% of the population was vaccinated, said the doctor.
Noting that an individual will become immune to the infection once they recover, the doctor urged the public to get booster shots and stressed that getting a second shot will be completely safe.
Symptoms of measles include fever over 40 degrees Celcius, dry cough, flat red-coloured rashes, small white bumps inside the mouth, runny nose, sore throat and inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis).
Infants under 6 months old, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people have a high risk of infection.
Measles is one of the most communicable diseases in the world due to the fact that it can spread via air. Hence, un-infected individuals will easily contract the disease if an infected host coughs or sneezes in their vicinity or comes into contact with objects that have been contaminated by the host's secretions.
The infection can cause complications, especially in children under five years of age, ranging from pneumonia, croup, acute brain inflammation, inflammation of the middle ear and eye ulcers. Complications such as acute brain inflammation, occurring in one out of every 1000 cases of measles, is highly likely to leave the individual with permanent brain damage.
Despite the fact that individuals who recover from the measles infection are immune to re-infection, it leaves the individual with a weakened immune system for many years as the virus kills cells in the body that produces anti-bodies.
The disease resurfaced in the country after 1 and a half years; the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly declared the elimination of measles from the Maldives during June 2017. The first victim of the outbreak was a three-year-old toddler who had not the necessary vaccine dosages at nine and 18 months.
Measles has been the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths since 2018. One or two out of every 1000 children are at risk of fatal respiratory and neurological complications due to the infection.
False claims correlating vaccination with autism has led to "anti-vax" campaigns around the globe causing reduced vaccination rates, which in turn, results in immunization rates too low to maintain herd immunity.
As such, an "anti-vax" Viber group with over 1000 members has come to the attention of the authorities. The group was initially advertised as a forum for debate with well-known doctors participating in the discussion. Nevertheless, the anti-vaxxers have been reported to continuously disregard the opinions of doctors in favour of online resources promoting anti-vax ideologies.
The Maldives began vaccination services during 1976, having introduced vaccines for measles during 1983. The last patient to have tested positive to measles was treated during 2009.