Hundreds of kids have fallen severely ill from measles in North America and Europe over the past few years, often because of their parent’s choice to not vaccinate based on a wholly debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.
In less well-off nations, there is often no luxury of choice – the vaccines are too expensive, too far away, or in desperately short supply.
Dada is a fisherman who lives with his family on the coast of Tôlanaro, Madagascar. His country, one of the poorest nations in the world, is currently facing a measles outbreak that’s infected over 66,000 people and killed almost 1,000, most of whom are kids.
In a little over one week, the outbreak took the life of his 4-year-old son, his 3-year-old niece, and his 3-year-old nephew.
Speaking to Reuters, Dada explained that his son, Limberaza, had previously received the first dose of his measles vaccinations, which is free under the current vaccination program. However, he could not afford to pay a further $15 for the second dose as his whole family lives on less than $2 a day. Instead, he was forced to visit a back-street doctor offering traditional medicines.
In January, his young son started to show symptoms of measles, such as a cough, the distinctive rash, and fever. Within a week, he was dead.
Over the following eight days, his niece and nephew also fell sick and died from the contagious viral disease.
“They were so full of life,” Dada told Reuters.
Madagascar has had low vaccination rates for some years. In 2017, the estimated immunization rate was just 58 percent. For perspective, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a 95 percent coverage to stop the virus from spreading through a population. The WHO says children should get two doses of measles-containing vaccinations for the most effective protection, but Madagascar currently only offers one free shot.
The WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Madagascan government, and a number of organizations are putting millions of dollars towards targeted vaccination campaigns in light of the recent outbreak, but the program is still millions short of covering the whole population. The health ministry says there are not enough vaccines, while many of the medical facilities are out of reach for people living in rural communities. They are hoping to roll out a nationwide two-dose vaccine program this year, but in the meantime, many struggle to afford the second dose.
The WHO recently cited the “failure to vaccinate” as the prime cause of the world’s ongoing measles outbreak. While there are many factors behind this, which can vary from country to country, the recent outbreaks in richer nations are not due to lack of available vaccines or money, it's misinformation and myth.