PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department has planned to begin a massive vaccination campaign after the outbreak of measles, diphtheria, and other childhood diseases in the province.

Director of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dr Mohammad Arif Khan told Dawn that 1,400 people were infected with measles and 13 killed by the highly contagious disease in the province during the last one year.

“The main issue we face is that 75 per cent of the people infected with measles were aged over two years. That happened because most of those children missed routine immunisation due to the busyness of our staff members with coronavirus-related activities since 2020,” he said.

Dr Khan said besides measles, diphtheria also broke out in the province, with most sufferers being more than two years of age.

He said commonly, the children aged below two were infected with those highly contagious diseases.

EPI official says measles claimed 13 lives in province in one year

“After the onset of Covid-19, most of our 3,500 staff members got busy with pandemic-related activities because it was a global emergency. They collected samples from suspected people, and the exercise was followed by contact-tracing of the coronavirus-positive people and their vaccination along with others,” he said.

The official said the EPI administered Covid-19 vaccine jabs to 80 per cent of the people as per global guidelines, but in the process, it couldn’t cover children for vaccination, leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

He said during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government went for frequent lockdowns, including smart ones, so it wasn’t possible for health workers to reach the targeted population amid focus on Covid-related activities.

Dr Khan said recently, the health department held a meeting with the Unicef, World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation leading to an agreement about the launch of the “Big Catch” campaign in August.

He said the campaign would target children less than five years of age for vaccination against childhood diseases, while its second and third rounds would take place in the months of September and October, respectively.

“This situation prevailed in most of the countries, especially the developing ones, with authorities focusing their attention on the fight against Covid-19, so routine immunisation was badly affected,” he said.

The official said Gavi would provide all logistical support for the upcoming vaccination drives.

He said the province’s population under two years of age was 1.1 million, but the EPI would vaccinate all children aged below five, who totaled eight million.

“Even before the start of the Big Catch campaign, our 2,000 vaccination centres at public sector hospitals were open to the vaccination of children,” he said.

Dr Khan said the EPI had already taken the Pakistan Pediatrics Association and community elders on board to ensure the vaccination of children at fixed centres for their protection from diseases.

“Immunisation is the only way to protect children from killer diseases and ensure their growth, and therefore, the responsibility for their vaccination lies with their parents. This will promise a better future for them,” he said.

The official said trained vaccinators in the province, who had played a significant role in the fight against Covid-19, would be part of the efforts for the elimination of measles and other childhood diseases.

“We have also enlisted the support of religious scholars, who are persuading people about the vaccination of their children. The campaign will also include polio vaccination,” he said.

Dr Khan urged people to ignore “propaganda” against vaccination against polio and other diseases for the protection of their children’s good health.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

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