In the past couple of months, reports of deaths due to measles have become commonplace in the media. The outbreak of the disease has assumed epidemic level, with virtually every state in the northern part of the country recording cases of infections. Fatalities have been reported in a number of the states.
The severity and extent of the outbreak appears to have taken health authorities by surprise.
The fact that this seems to have been confined to a region of the country would vindicate the assertion of the minister of state for health, Dr Mohammed Ali Pate, that parents should be blamed for not taking their children to be given the routine immunization jabs against childhood killer diseases, including measles.
Some health officials agree. Dr Mercy Iliya of the government-owned Gwamna Awam General Hospital in Kaduna recounted a similar experience. Dr Iliya noted that her interaction with nursing mothers and other parents showed that they seldom took their children to immunization centres to be vaccinated.
But she also attributed that reluctance to the frequent unavailability of the anti-measles vaccines, especially where they mattered most, the primary health care centres.
In fact, there are persistent reports of parents complaining that the measles vaccines were either not available, or had not been supplied in sufficient quantity to go round.
However, this is not the time to begin to apportion blame anyone. A post-mortem would unravel all that went wrong.
For now, the federal, state and local government authorities must now activate emergency measures, if these have not already been done, to contain the spread of the virus, manage existing cases and ensure that no new ones occur.
According to reports, thirty four children have already died from the disease. Nearly three thousand children, who are within the vulnerable age-range of nine months and three years, are currently down with the virus in the affected states.
Zamfara, where the outbreak is reported to be severest, recorded the highest number of fatal cases, fourteen out of 136 children infected; in Katsina, nine deaths were recorded, with about 1,300 cases of affected children, and six in Niger State.
Yobe recorded four deaths; Kano, where the infection rate doubled from 400 to over 800 cases, one death was reported.
The outbreak has been reported also in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Bauchi states, with varying numbers of cases.
Like the debilitating effects of polio where immunization against it is ignored, the epidemiology of the measles' spread indicates that parents unwittingly exposed their children to it, and possible death, where they neglect or refuse to ensure that they get vaccinated.
There are also community elders who do not help matters, when they spread incorrect, even false, information regarding the uses and goals of the routine immunization campaigns.
The current outbreak of measles further undermines the misleading message they seek to get across to gullible and uninformed persons.
Other well-meaning persons, among them respected community leaders, must rise to the occasion and point out the anomalies in such misleading messages in order to avoid the devastating consequence such as is now unfolding in the states of the North.
The Federal Ministry of Health should also not close its eyes to reports of shortages of vaccines in some parts of the country.
Dr Pate may be right in blaming parents for the current state of affairs; but the possibility is there that vaccines despatched by the ministry may not be getting to their destinations.
In addition, because the vaccines have very short lifespan, they may not be getting to the right places in the potent state to be effective, even after being applied.