This week, Myanmar took the first step in protecting its children from Japanese encephalitis (JE), a deadly disease that claims up to 20,000 lives per year globally. Myanmar’s first national Japanese encephalitis vaccination campaign will protect over 14 million children from the disease. Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) is conducting the campaign with coordinated support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi); UNICEF; the World Health Organization; and PATH. Following the campaign, the ministry will introduce the JE vaccine into the country’s routine immunization program in 2018.
The government of Myanmar and its campaign partners are making an exhaustive effort to vaccinate all children 9 months to 15 years of age in Myanmar by conducting the campaign in two phases—the first in schools targeting children from 5 to 15 years old, and the second in communities targeting children 5 and under. This includes concerted efforts to reach children in every region of Myanmar, including hard-to-reach areas and conflict zones.
The campaign and introduction in Myanmar is a continuation of nearly 13 years of PATH’s work around the world to protect children from the deadly mosquito-borne disease, often referred to as “brain fever.” JE causes acute encephalitis syndrome, which often takes a toll on survivors, 75 percent of whom suffer long-term disabilities. These include intellectual, behavioral, and neurological disabilities like paralysis or the inability to speak. There is no cure or clinical treatment for JE, and because mosquito vector control is not yet sustainable or cost-effective, vaccination is the most important measure to prevent JE.
With the campaign and routine introduction, Myanmar joins its neighbors in the Mekong region—Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam—to include JE vaccine as part of their national routine immunization program.
- Mark Gudmastad is a communications officer with PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access.