ISLAMABAD, Jan 2: The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday the surge in measles cases in the country could well be a result of insufficient immunisation coverage.
The figures collated from official sources and surveys provided evidence of the current outbreak of the infectious disease, the international agency said.
The WHO’s representative in Pakistan, Dr Guido Sabatinelli, explained that the government’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), technically supported by the WHO and Unicef, was aimed at protecting children by immunising them against childhood tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, Pertussis, hepatitis B, meningitis, haemophilus influenza and measles.
Dr Sabatinelli said the programme also protected newborns against neonatal tetanus by giving TT vaccine to all pregnant mothers.
Unfortunately, according to the survey of Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM --- 2010-11), Pakistan’s routine immunisation coverage does not meet the optimal routine immunisation rate of more than 80 per cent.
“Pakistan’s routine immunisation coverage is close to 65 per cent with only some important cities of Punjab recording a better performance,” Dr Sabatinelli said.
According to him, the huge difference in routine immunisation coverage between the provinces, districts and cities was at the root of the current measles outbreak.
The WHO statement added that adequate steps both on emergency and long -term basis were being recommended to the provincial governments to ensure that routine immunisation coverage was made accessible to each and every child.
“On average, an EPI vaccination centre in a union council catered to a population of 20,000 to 30,000 which is simply not enough to cater to the total population of any UC,” remarked Dr Sabatinelli.
As an emergency response to the outbreak in Sindh, the provincial health ministry had started a large measles vaccination campaign targeting 2.9 million children in eight districts of Sindh.
“Measles campaign has been planned between December 31, 2012, and January 9, 2013, for eight districts in Sindh, including Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Ghotki and Kashmore.
During this campaign, children of ages between nine months and 10 years would be vaccinated.
“A total of 1.3m vaccine doses have been dispatched by the national authorities to the eight districts,” said Dr Sabatinelli.
However, according to the head of infectious diseases at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr Maqbool Hussain, no outbreak had been witnessed in the federal capital.