Immunisation coverage in Sindh less than 30pc, say experts

KARACHI: Experts on Tuesday said as the world marked global immunisation week, Pakistan was battling with miserably low coverage of vaccination with Sindh standing at the bottom of the ladder.

“Sindh has less than 30 per cent coverage of immunisation, which is pathetically low, and what adds to the wound is that such figures are static for years,” said Prof Jamal Raza, president, Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) for Sindh, at a briefing.

“Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases could return, resulting in increased and unnecessary illness, disability, and even death in certain cases,” said Prof Raza, who is also director of the National Institute of Child Health (NICH).

He said vaccines were available free of cost at the EPI centres and parents could get their children vaccinated from there to protect them from unnecessary suffering.

Dr Khalid Shafi, secretary general, PPA Sindh, said 27pc deaths in children aged less than five could be prevented through vaccines.

He said the Enhanced Programme on Immunisation (EPI) in Sindh was being run for the past over three decades, yet awareness in general public about it was poor. “People need to be educated about the importance and availability of vaccines at EPI centres.”

They said the EPI was launched in Pakistan in 1978 and currently it was providing vaccinations against nine diseases including tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and Pneumococcal disease.

Prof Jalal Akbar who headed PPA Karachi, said immunisation was a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and it was a cost-effective health investment.

“Vaccines protect children by preparing their bodies to fight many potentially deadly diseases. They are responsible to control many infectious diseases that were once common around the world.”

Dr Mushtaq Memon, secretary general, PPA Centre, said immunisation prevented two to three million deaths every year.

He said every year, globally, pneumonia killed an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five years, which was more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Rotavirus gastroenteritis was estimated to cause more than half a million child deaths. “Two billion people are infected with hepatitis B virus and about 780,000 people die every year. All of these can be prevented through vaccination and immunisation.”

Dr M.N. Lal, director of the Child Survival Programme Sindh, said globally 17pc of deaths in under-five age group were due to vaccine preventable diseases.

“Measles’ vaccination resulted in a 75pc drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide, while illnesses and complications caused by influenza can be reduced by up to 60pc, and deaths by 80pc, in elderly patients.”

Dr Lal said polio cases had been reduced by 99pc from over 300,000 per year in 1988 to less than 650 cases in 2011. Smallpox was eradicated globally in a time span of 10 years.

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