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India’s measles vaccine campaigns helped save thousands of children

NEW DELHI: India’s mass measles vaccination campaign helped save the lives of tens of thousands of children between 2010 and 2013, according to the latest study.The finding, published in the journal eLife, suggests that the measles vaccine campaigns helped save 41,000 to 56,000 children in India during 2010 to 2013, or 39-57 per cent of the expected number of deaths nationally.

The researchers, including Prabhat Jha from the University of Toronto in Canada, found that mortality in children aged between one and 59 months fell more in the campaign states following launch (27 per cent) than in the non-campaign states (11 per cent).The finding suggests that eliminating deaths from measles in India could be possible, although it will require continued diligence to ensure high immunisation rates among Indian children and direct mortality monitoring.

The results may also help to encourage greater uptake of vaccinations in children across the world, the researchers said.”Together, our results demonstrate the significant success of the measles vaccination campaigns in saving children’s lives in India,” Jha said in a statement.The researchers note that there have been substantial decreases in the number of deaths from measles over the last 30 years.However, the infection remains a significant cause of mortality in children under five years old globally, with much of the burden of mortality and transmission residing in Africa and Asia.India was one of the last countries to adopt two doses of the measles vaccine as part of national immunisation programmes, researchers said.In 2010, the government implemented second-dose measles vaccines alongside mass immunisation campaigns in districts with low child vaccination rates, they said.”We know that measles deaths have declined in India, but what we did not know prior to this study is if the national measles campaign reduced child mortality rates,” said Benjamin Wong, Epidemiologist at St Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto.

“Until now, no studies had directly answered this question due to gaps in the available data,” Wong said.The researchers applied a novel statistical method to data from the Million Death Study (MDS) — a nationally representative sample of all deaths in India, which includes detailed interviews with families about child deaths.They examined 27,000 child deaths from 1.3 million households surveyed from 2005 to 2013.During this period, the MDS captured deaths for 13,490 girls and 13,007 boys aged between one and 59 months old.Measles mortality risk was notably lower for children living in the campaign districts and those born between 2010-2013.The team also found that the campaign was particularly successful for girls, as there was a steeper decline in the mortality rates of girls than boys in the vaccination campaign states during the three-year period.However, while this highlights a narrower gap between girls and boys, mortality rates remain higher for girls, researchers said.This is possibly due to lower vaccination coverage, a social preference for boys and/or lower levels of breastfeeding and healthcare access, they said.

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