Dozens of children may have died from a new outbreak of measles in the northern Nigerian town of Zaria. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja has been following up on the latest public health concern in Nigeria and filed this report for VOA.
Local press reports suggest as many as 50 children may have died in the past week in the latest outbreak of measles in the northwestern town of Zaria, but officials say the number is far lower.
Officials say the number of reported cases has reduced sharply in recent days, an indication the outbreak has been brought under control.
Dr. Hamid Abdulkadir, the number two man at the Kaduna state ministry of health, under whose jurisdiction Zaria falls, says the victims were mostly children who declined recent mass vaccination campaigns.
"Just a few cases of measles, about six cases, just one or two deaths, in families who have been rejecting the routine vaccinations during the polio-plus days," he noted. "This is a clear evidence that if you do not take the vaccination, you are very liable. We just need to step up our public awareness, particularly for those who are still rejecting."
Officials say vaccine coverage in Nigeria has doubled from 35 percent in 2005 to about 76 percent of the population last year.
The United Nations say 1 million children in oil-rich Nigeria die every year before the age of five, from preventable causes such as malaria, diarrhea, and measles.
Measles, caused by a highly infectious virus, is marked by fever and a characteristic rash. Measles deaths have plunged in Africa thanks to concerted efforts to vaccinate children, the United Nations said last week.
The disease is often fatal in poor countries because it attacks malnourished children.