Childhood immunisation

Published April 30, 2020

THE spread of Covid-19 with all its troubling implications has led governments and world bodies to undertake damage-assessment exercises in various spheres of life. The challenge for the rest of the health sector alone is immense, with medical experts warning of perils ahead as the near-total focus on the coronavirus has thrown up difficult questions. Taking stock of the situation, Unicef has pointed out how countries in South Asia specifically have missed childhood vaccination targets as a result of the lockdowns. For instance, in Pakistan, one of the few remaining reservoirs of the polio virus, an already suffering vaccination campaign against the debilitating disease has been further weakened. Unicef has reported sporadic outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The agency’s latest reminder during World Immunisation Week should propel the authorities into immediate action. True, it is a source of further tension for a country not known for giving the best deal to its children. But delaying immunisation can have its own, lethal, consequences. And although parental awareness regarding the absolute necessity of childhood vaccination has increased, extra effort is required from the government and those on the front lines of the war against the virus ie the medical corps, to not let attention be diverted from the need to protect children. Together, they must find ways to facilitate access to other medical services even in the midst of the pandemic.

Vaccination is a crucial area as are other medical cases requiring urgent care; the latter have been piling up for weeks now. A short-term solution might have to entail a cautious opening up of selected healthcare facilities other than emergency wards and special Covid-19 units. In the long run, the authorities might want to encourage visits to community doctors advising parents and administering the required vaccines to their children. Millions of children around the world have already been left out of vaccination programmes. Many more will be added to their numbers if the focus remains on a single emergency.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2020

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