TAKING a step in the right direction, on Friday the Balochistan governor called upon the provincial health department as well as NGOs, to play their role in eradicating preventable childhood illnesses in the province. At a meeting with a health department delegation, the governor was informed that a one-week immunisation campaign — in observance of World Immunisation Week — spearheaded by the provincial authorities, is to begin on April 24. Given the alarming rate of childhood illness, especially in a province with some of the worst human development indices in the country, it is necessary to educate more and more communities about the importance of having their young ones vaccinated to ensure herd immunity; this can spare parents much anxiety — and grief — later. The essential vaccinations are free or subsidised under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation that was launched in 1978. While the EPI covers a range of diseases, it is polio that is of special concern, especially as Pakistan remains one of the last reservoirs in the world of the debilitating virus. Given Balochistan’s difficult terrain and the remoteness of many areas, access for vaccination team has been difficult.
Of course, it is not only Balochistan that presents a challenge to state capacity and resources in this regard. In Punjab, for example, the sheer numbers of the population pose a burden. In KP, the situation is aggravated by the lack of trust in vaccination campaigns, much of it due to misinformation propagated by local clerics who specifically see the anti-polio drive as a Western conspiracy. Several polio workers have been killed by militants, while apprehensive parents routinely refuse to have their children inoculated during door-to-door campaigns. Clearly, Pakistan has to work hard and invest more resources and time in its vaccination programme — and not just for polio — to expand coverage, if it is to attain the SDG goal of ending preventable deaths of its children. Awareness-raising is necessary, but it should continue throughout the year.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2019