Routine immunisation stressed to overcome child health crisis

Published February 15, 2024
EPI official Dr Naeem Rajput (centre) speaks at the event.—Dawn
EPI official Dr Naeem Rajput (centre) speaks at the event.—Dawn

KARACHI: Presenting a bleak picture of the state of child health in Sindh, experts at a press conference held on Wednesday said that vaccine-preventable diseases were on the rise across the province with 21 districts reporting 122 outbreaks of measles in 2023.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can cause severe disease, complications, and even death, according to World Health Organisation.

The press conference was organised at the Karachi Press Club by Provincial Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in collaboration with other partners.

According to the data shared during the programme, measles has seen a drastic increase in incidence over the past four years; a total of 1,873 suspected cases were reported in year 2020; 6,293 (suspected) cases were reported in 2021; 4,990 were reported in year 2022 and 8,051 reported last year.

Experts raise alarm over rising cases of vaccine-preventable diseases; drastic increase of measles cases in four years worries doctors

The total number of confirmed cases jumped from 675 in 2020 to more than 4,000 in 2023.

Most of the affected children were unvaccinated and aged under five years.

“There were also cases of diphtheria, typhoid, rubella, tuberculosis, pneumonia and hepatitis. We have had a higher number of measles cases because it’s a very contagious disease,” Project Director of EPI Dr Muhammad Naeem Rajput said, adding that the department recorded over 90 deaths from measles last year while diphtheria claimed nine lives this year.

Explaining the spike in vaccine-preventable diseases including polio, he said it was mainly due to acute malnourishment and “a large influx of population from northern areas of Pakistan to lower parts of Sindh”.

“We are trying to integrate nutrition efforts with the immunisation programme as well as gearing up our public awareness drives to address the challenges,” he said in reply to a question, adding that the department had initiated the process to meet vaccinators’ shortage.

During case response activities in 2023-24, he pointed out, a total of 351,852 children under five years of age received measles-rubella vaccine doses.

In his remarks, Dr Khalid Shafi representing the Pakistan Paediatric Association said the number of children affected by measles was much higher than the officially reported data (given the availability of limited testing facilities) in the province.

The ongoing child health crisis in the province, he emphasised, could be effectively addressed by strengthening the routine immunisation programme instead of launching a separate initiative.

“We also believe that the immunisation coverage must be increased from two years to five years. This is important given the fact that a large number of children in our society fail to get the vaccine dose at the age specified by the government,” he observed.

Dr Ismail Memon of Pakistan Medical Association urged the government to improve monitoring activities and collaboration among stakeholders.

Additional Project Director EPI Dr Sohail Raza Shaikh, Dr Khalilullah Memon, also representing EPI Sindh, and President of Asia Pacific Paediatric Association Dr Iqbal Memon also spoke.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

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