IT is an unfortunate reality that in Pakistan, far too many children are afflicted by, and, in fact, lose their lives to, vaccine-preventable diseases. Amongst these ailments is measles, and as a report in this paper has pointed out, there has been a sustained surge in the number of measles cases reported in Karachi over the past few weeks. According to medical experts, 106 children died due to measles at just two of the city’s hospitals last year. Fatal cases of diphtheria have also been reported. Clearly, these lives could have been saved had there been better immunisation coverage in the metropolis. As one expert said, “primary immunisation is the only way forward”.
A range of life-threatening diseases are covered under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. Both measles and diphtheria, as well as polio, are covered in this scheme. Yet the challenge is reaching all the children. Partly because of vaccine hesitancy, and partly due to bureaucratic inefficiency, all targeted children are not receiving the doses that would keep them safe from deadly and debilitating ailments. In this regard, Punjab has the best numbers, as around 90pc of children in the province have been inoculated against vaccine-preventable diseases. The figures for other provinces need much improvement. For example, in Sindh, 68pc of the children are fully immunised, while the figure for Balochistan is an abysmal 38pc. As Unicef has noted, 25pc of child deaths can be prevented through vaccinations. Therefore, health authorities in all provinces need to ramp up their respective EPI drives. Of course, in some areas there are dangerous obstacles, such as threats to polio teams. But these need to be overcome by engaging community elders, and neutralising violent elements where militants threaten health workers. Also, Punjab’s best practices can be replicated by the other provinces to improve vaccine coverage. The goal should be a healthy generation of children fully vaccinated against major ailments.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024