IF any proof were needed of Pakistan’s tendency to regress, one has only to look at the country’s social indicators. Take, for instance, child health. Much of the world, as it gears up to mark World Immunisation Week at the end of the month, has seen success in protecting children through vaccinations. But in Pakistan, immunisation coverage that hovered at 90pc a decade ago now stands at an abysmal 20pc to 50pc in different parts of the country. Of the staggering 435,000 deaths of children under the age of five every year, approximately 20pc — or 100,000 deaths — are the result of illnesses such as pneumonia or measles, which can be easily prevented through available vaccines.
As pointed out at Tuesday’s news conference in Karachi to mark immunisation week, a large section of our population is either unaware of or careless about having children vaccinated. Shockingly, this is the case even though over the years some 7,000 centres under the Expanded Programme for Immunisation have been set up across the country where nine crucial vaccinations are available free of cost. This situation is as frightening as it is unacceptable, especially given the fact that the EPI has been operational for four decades. With focus narrowing in recent years to the polio immunisation campaign that has met with a great deal of resistance from hard-line elements who have frequently killed polio workers, other routine vaccinations seem to gave gone off the radar — even though over 80 children have died of measles in Sindh alone since the beginning of the year. Poor access to information is a major reason for this state of affairs. Why are we see-ing no push for raising awareness about the critical need for vaccinations and their free availability amongst Pakistan’s millions?