LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed the concerned departments to make the vaccination campaign, started from June 24, a big success so the children could be protected against measles.

He said children from the age of six months to 10 would be vaccinated in the first phase of the campaign launched in 12 districts of the province whereas in the second phase, children would be vaccinated in six other districts from June 28.

He said anti-measles campaign was being pursued on the pattern of anti-dengue campaign and it would be ensured that no child remains unvaccinated. Shahbaz appealed to the parents to cooperate with the teams of Health Departments for vaccination of their children. He said that third-party audit of vaccination campaign would be conducted to check any irregularity. He said that no negligence or laxity would be tolerated during anti-measles campaign.

The country's richest and most developed province have so far lost more than 170 lives - all children. Health experts say ineffective vaccination programmes and poor monitoring of the disease have resulted in the contagious disease running rampant. "Initially people were unaware about this epidemic, so they tried to treat the disease at home and using local street doctors," doctor Iftikhar Mirza, a spokesman for Mayo hospital, told AFP.

"They were even unaware about the vaccination. So, when they came to us, the children were in a critical condition and many had already died."

Asad Abbas, a labourer, tried to treat the disease, spread by droplets from the nose or mouth of infected people, with traditional methods and sought proper medical treatment only just in time.

"The red spots appeared on my six-year-old grandson's body some days back. We took it lightly and got him treated from a homeopathic practitioner," he said.

"Then he started vomiting and his energy vanished. When we brought him here, he was about to die. But after treatment over here, he is okay now."

Doctor Muhammad Younas, an official from the Directorate General of Health in Punjab, said the province had seen 17,985 measles cases this year, with 158 deaths.

"This is the worst situation in five years and we can confidently say that the number of these cases is much higher than during the previous five years," he said.

Last year there were 310 measles deaths in Pakistan, according to the World Health Organization, described in January by a health ministry official as "a record high".

The WHO uses a more conservative count of cases and deaths, but even by its measure 2013 is on track to be far worse than 2012. Since the start of the year the WHO has recorded 12,951 measles cases and 290 deaths across Pakistan - compared to 14,984 cases and 310 deaths in the whole of last year.

The WHO says three consecutive years of severe flooding, which put Pakistan's health system under severe strain, have helped measles cases rocket from 4,321 in 2010 to the current alarming figure.