PESHAWAR: Health department has been facing problems in treatment of diphtheria patients owing to non-availability of anti-diphtheria serum (ADS) in the market, according to official sources.

“We have taken on loan basis 3,000 vials of ADS from Punjab and federal government because the drug is not available in the open market. Therefore, we recommend vaccination to stay safe from the ailment,” Dr Mohammad Arif Khan, the director of expanded programme on immunisation (EPI), told Dawn.

He said that National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad confirmed 300 diphtheria cases in the province including patients up to 60 years of age during the last one year. “About 200 deaths have been recorded due to the disease, which is vaccine-preventable,” he added.

Dr Arif said that the cost of a single vial of ADS was Rs28,000 and one patient required four to six vials. He said that only unvaccinated children were at risk of getting the infection. “We have just concluded a 12-day intensified outreach vaccination campaign in the province,” he added.

EPI director says 1,900 suspected cases have been reported so far

He said that during the campaign, conducted from Feb 12 to Feb 24, their workers administered vaccine to almost 1.1 million children below the age of two years against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases. “So far, 1,900 suspected cases have been registered in the province,” he added.

Dr Arif said that there would three more campaigns in the current year to ensure that all unvaccinated and defaulted children receive doses and stay safe from the ailment. “Not only diphtheria cases but the province is also struggling to deal with measles cases owing to lack of vaccination,” he added.

He said that the campaigns were being run in collaboration with World Health Organisation during which the staff inoculated the target population at public places.

He said that children were also given vaccine at fixed EPI centres in the public sector hospitals and the campaigns were meant to reach those, who were not brought to the centres.

However, sources said that severe financial crunch at the government level badly affected the outreach activities. “The technicians cannot carry out outreach activities because of lack of money. Previously, the department gave Rs300 per day to each of technicians, who conducted outreach campaigns and covered the defaulted or unvaccinated children,” a senior doctor told Dawn.

He said that the vaccination programme required Rs4 billion per year to ensure that the staff got POL and other logistics to reach all children.

“As per protocol, we need to carry out case response campaign in any area after emergence of a case and give booster doses to children but owing to lack of funds we are banking on WHO, which has been supporting intensified outreach campaigns for the last 18 months,” he said.

Patients requiring ADS are at the receiving end due to its costliness and lack of availability in open market. “We have engaged community elders at local level to pave way for smooth-sailing of immunisation and protect children against diseases,” said the doctor.

He said that scaling up public awareness to do away with vaccine hesitancy at community level was also needed because many parents skipped vaccination of their children due to misconceptions.

He said that people should be informed that vaccines were available at EPI centres free of charge and were administered by qualified staff inside the government-run hospitals. “Diphtheria is highly infectious, so vaccination is recommended,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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