Three children died and at least three others were hospitalised in critical condition in Nawabshah allegedly after being administered expired measles vaccines on Saturday, according to hospital officials and family members.
Husnain Brohi, 5, Hania Noor, 6, and nine-month-old Qamar Din died at the Paediatrics Unit of Peoples University Medical Hospital (PUMH) while three other children, Zubair, 5, Jannat, 4, and Tania, 3, were said to be in serious condition.
Junior doctors at PUMH who are treating the patients believe that expired vaccines are the reason behind the deaths, but district health officials have denied that the administered vaccines were expired and have ordered an inquiry into the matter.
The officials said that samples had been collected from the bodies of the affected children for testing, and that nothing could be said about the reasons behind the deaths as yet.
The parents of the deceased children alleged that a lady health worker visited their homes in the Saeedabad area on Saturday and administered anti-measles vaccines against their will.
They claimed that the woman had not followed proper protocol, as she took the vaccines and injections out from her purse and administered doses to the children. They added that the vaccines were past their expiry date.
The children fell ill after the vaccine was administered and were taken to a private hospital. They were later shifted to PUMH, but a lack of immediate medical attention led to three of the six children losing their lives.
Residents of Mouhalla Saeedabad in Old Nawabshah staged a protest against the Health Department and demanded immediate action against those responsible for the negligence.
Police subsequently took the lady health worker administering the allegedly expired vaccines into custody for investigation. A case has yet to be registered, but a complaint may be filed once medical reports are issued, police said.
Commissioner Shaheed Benazirabad Ghulam Mustafa Phull has set up two different committees to investigate the matter.
Speaking to Dawn, Phull said that an inquiry is being conducted by the Health Department to check if there was any negligence on the part of staff, while a separate investigation would be conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO).
He said that he had visited PUMH where the children were admitted and had ordered the deputy commissioner to make arrangements for provision of the best facilities and to shift the affected children to Karachi.
He said that although there was no way to compensate the loss of lives of the children, he would recommend the Sindh government provide compensation to their families.
A reliable source in the Nawabshah Health Department told Dawn that health officials show little concern regarding international standards and protocols regarding vaccinations, including the maintenance of required temperature, possibly leading to a drop in efficacy of the vaccine as well as adverse affects.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Shaheed Benazirabad Nauman Siddiq Latki reached PUMH and supervised the shifting of the three children to Aga Khan Hospital, Karachi.
He told Dawn that the condition of children was critical and there was no facility of Paediatric ICU in Nawabshah after which a decision was taken by the doctors to shift them to Karachi so that they receive the best treatment and facilities to ensure safety of their lives.
He further said that the children were moved along with their families and the government of Sindh would bear all expenses.
Later, Deputy Commissioner Shaheed Benazirabad announced a three-day mourning period throughout the district.