PESHAWAR: The health department is hoping to eradicate poliomyelitis this year and divert the resources and manpower to strengthening routine immunisation for 10 diseases including polio, according to sources.
They said that polio vaccination had been the most politicised and costly intervention, which ate up resources and kept the technicians busy for more than 15 days a month.
“The province has been facing an uphill task to eliminate polio and focus on general immunisation. We are close to eradication as there has been no case this year,” said sources.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is spending Rs24 billion under a five-year immunisation programme of which Rs18 billion or three-forth will be spent on purchase of vaccines.
Resources, manpower to be diverted to routine immunisation
“Eradication of polio virus will save the amount being spent on purchase of oral polio vaccine (OPV) and injectable polio vaccines. Both are costly and not available readily. The province purchases all vaccines through federal government from foreign-based manufacturers,” said sources.
The provincial government is administering OPV to 5.6 million children in every campaign. Per dose cost of OPV is Rs20. Additionally, Rs120 million is being spent on every polio campaign that involves 45,000 persons.
Shortage of vaccine in global market has also prompted the health department to reschedule the campaigns because many known companies have stopped manufacturing it due to eradication of the crippling disease.
Experts say that poliomyelitis is only one of the vaccine-preventable childhood ailments, which can be eradicated completely though immunisation. The other childhood diseases cannot be eradicated completely.
The health department is aware of the harm caused to routine immunisation by polio vaccination. Officials said that they had employed 1,588 vaccinators during the past one year and total strength of vaccinators reached 2,888 but the province still required more staff to strengthen routine immunisation.
They said that 1,500 more vaccinators would be employed to cope with the situation. They claimed that immunisation had showed improvement during the past three years.
“We are immunising 73 per cent children compared 53 per cent in 2013 but still people die of measles and diphtheria etc which is a matter of concern,” said officials. They said that eradication of polio was sight that year in the province, however, children would continue to receive OPV as usual because virus was in circulation.
The expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) of the health department inoculates children against preventable sicknesses for which vaccines are the only way of prevention.
The vaccines for pneumonia and measles are the most expensive, however, these are available in the market but polio immunisation is facing shortage of vaccines because the large manufacturers have stopped it due to eradication of the diseases in the entire world except Pakistan and Afghanistan, the only endemic countries.
Officials said that of the total amount for immunisation programme, Rs18 billion would be provided by donor countries and the province would pay Rs6 billion. “This huge amount can be diverted to other public health problems,” they added.
Given the decreasing number of polio cases in the province, there is a hope that the crippling disease will disappear and the amount spent on it would be channelised towards strengthening routine immunisation.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017