The United Nations health agency is calling on all Afghans to vaccinate their children after a recent measles outbreak that has been made worse by severe weather that hampers access to immediate treatment as well as low immunization coverage.

According to an update from the World Health Organization (WHO) office in the country, 20 children have died due to measles and pneumonia in the western provinces of Ghor and Baghdis.

?Measles is fully preventable by a proven safe vaccination,? the agency stated yesterday. ?We call on all Afghans to vaccinate their children.?

Measles is a highly infectious disease that occurs through the spread of nasal and oral fluids and causes complications and deaths, even in previously healthy individuals. It is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe vaccine is available.

Two doses of measles vaccine are recommended by WHO since about 15 per cent of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose.

WHO, the Afghan public health ministry and aid partners set up five temporary clinics in Baghdis and Ghor to help contain the outbreak. More than 6,200 patients were treated by the medical emergency teams, and over 3,600 measles vaccinations were administered.

A number of temporary clinics, as well as mobile health teams, are also available in several areas to assist with local medical needs.

?This outbreak confirms that the overall immunization coverage remains low, with disparities throughout Afghanistan, particularly between rural and urban areas, secure and insecure zones,? said WHO.

In 2010, about 85 per cent of the world?s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services ? up from 72 per cent in 2000.

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