Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Stopping Rubella in Its Tracks

By Dinda Veskarahmi, Fundraising Communication Officer

Aris (7) at school after recovering from Rubella

Central Java: Aris had just gotten home from school when the fever hit. His mother, a local health volunteer, did what she could, giving him medicine and applying a cold compress to his forehead, but to no avail; the 38°C fever would not relent.

The next morning, Aris was taken to a nearby health centre in Klaten, Central Java, where his blood was drawn and sent to a nearby city for tests. The results came back several days later: Aris had tested positive for Rubella.

His mother, Diah, was extremely worried; she had heard the virus was contagious and could cause cataracts or loss of hearing. But fortunately for Aris, Rubella is usually a mild disease for children. It is babies in the womb that face the greatest danger.

If a pregnant woman becomes infected, Rubella can have devastating consequences for her unborn child, according to UNICEF Indonesia Health Specialist Dr. Kenny Peetosutan.

“The fetus can develop Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) which can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or severe birth defects including deafness, blindness and heart, and brain defects,” Dr Peetosutan says. “In Indonesia, some 20,000 babies are born with CRS every year.”

This has prompted the Government of Indonesia to launch a national immunization campaign against Rubella and Measles, targeting 67 million children between nine months and 15 years of age. The largest immunization campaign ever undertaken by the Government, it will be carried out in schools and health centres with the first phase kicking off in August in Java.

UNICEF is supporting the Government by mobilizing resources and helping to develop public communications materials to encourage parents to immunize their children during the campaign. The aim is to make sure no child is left out, including those living in rural and hard-to-reach corners of the archipelago.

Within a few days, Aris recovered and returned to school. In August, his classmates will have the opportunity to be immunized against measles and rubella free-of-charge when government health workers visit schools in Java as part of the national campaign.

Every child immunized will not only protect themselves from measles and rubella, but also the next generation.