Imagine if 2 million people lost their lives from direct intervention by the American government and Multi national corporations.
Ah, you would see headlines: Stop Globalism. IT’s Bush’s Fault.

Now imagine if 2.3 million lives have been saved by direct intervention of the American government and those same corporations…
Well, if you’re talking about the measles eradication program sponsored by the CDC and the Gates Foundation, Ted Turner’s money, UNICEF, and the American Red Cross, you just might get a small article deep inside the NYTimes.

The photo and the news story are about Africa, but the campaign is also becoming active in Asia. Nepal is one area, so are India and Indonesia.

Most Americans under the age of 40 have never had measles, due to the vaccines. Indeed, most docs who graduated after 1975 have never seen a case. But before vaccination became common, measles was considered an ordinary childhood disease, nothing major.

So what’s the fuss? Well, to start with, even in well nourished American kids, some children died of complications like pneumonia, and some developed Measles encephalitis, where the measles virus attacked the brain. I’m old enough to have seen a case during training, and if you see one case, believe me, you get your kids vaccinated. But whereas measles in well nourished American children is merely inconvenient (less than 1% mortality), measles among poorly nourished African children is lethal (20 to 30% mortality). Many die of the disease itself, and many die of bacterial pneumonia either during or shortly after they have measles. Measles weakens immunity to infections, including tuberculosis, which is widespread in poorer countries. The Measles initiative therefore is overdue.

The NYTimes article notes some of the logistical problem. Measles is a “live” vaccine, that it, it causes a mild case of measles that doesn’t usually make you sick, although a lot of kids get a day or two of fever from it. Because the vaccine is live, you can’t get it hot. Yet in many clinics, they don’t have electricity, or irregular electricity. And when you take the shots to the outlying villages, you need to keep it cold (we used to use beer coolers to carry it. If you see a nun with a beer cooler in Africa, she’s probably a nurse, not a drunk).
The shot causes high fevers in some kids two days later. And because of the fever after the shot, you need to have the people trust you enough not to panic. Stories of Nigerian Immans forbidding Polio vaccine after they read it cause HIV in UK tabloids show how important it is to have known and trusted local providers explain and give the vaccinations.

Even today, among the health conscious, many parents refuse to let their kids get the MMR shot due to fear of autism.
HERE the CDC explains why you need to give your kids the shot even though there is little measles around. Yes, I’m aware of the “autism” debate. But having worked in the (now closed) long term care facilities for the retarded, my take is that autism long predates the vaccine…but that in 1950 most of these kids were labled retarded and institutionalized. But if you want to risk you child, and his nutrition is good, then go ahead. But I warn you, you might be surprised how sick your kid becomes.

In the meanwhile, while all you rich yuppies debate evil drug companies and the side effects of vaccines, you might spend a moment to give thanks (or might I suggest write a check) to those using these vaccines to save lives?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket but she usually posts longer medical essays to HeyDoc’s Xanga site

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