Dakar — Chad's worst measles outbreak in years will soon spread to all parts of the country as vaccination rates are too low to stop an epidemic that has already hit thousands, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
The disease has infected more than 14,000 people and killed at least 164 since an outbreak began in April last year, and is now present in 115 of 126 health districts, according to WHO.
Only 37 percent of children are vaccinated against measles - which can cause blindness, deafness and brain damage - in the West African country of 15 million people, said the U.N. agency.
"I am sure that the entire country will be touched very soon because the kids are not vaccinated," said Jean-Bosco Ndihokubwayo, WHO representative for Chad.
"We are in this situation because the (vaccination) campaigns conducted since 2014 were not able to reach the targets," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The target of "herd immunity" where the population would be protected from the disease is 95 percent, he said.
The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Measles is a highly contagious disease with no specific treatment, and only a vaccine can prevent it, says WHO.
It is on the rise around the world, including in the United States and parts of Europe, where parents are refusing vaccines due to mistrust and misinformation campaigns.
Chad has measles outbreaks most years that last a few months and die off around June, but last year's outbreak has continued and is growing in intensity, said Theresa Berthold, emergency coordinator for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
About 9,000 cases were declared in the first three months of this year, compared to 5,000 in the previous eight months.
"What is really needed is a national vaccination campaign," said Berthold, adding that agencies were discussing this.
Chad is approaching the pre-harvest season when hunger is at its peak, usually lasting from about June to September.
If more children are not vaccinated quickly, the problems will spiral, since children without enough food are more likely to fall ill and less likely to survive it, Berthold said.
- Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths