Preventing preventable diseases

The Health Department’s intervention through the Expanded Programme on Immunisation proved too little, too late.

The Health Department’s intervention through the Expanded Programme on Immunisation proved too little, too late.

LAHORE: The measles epidemic made more headlines during 2013 than any other health issue in the province. As many as 146 children in the Punjab died of the “completely preventable” disease due to lack of timely immunisation. Poliomyelitis, eradicated almost all over the world, continued to haunt the Punjab. What measures can and will be taken to tackle these issues in the year ahead?

The Health Department’s intervention through the Expanded Programme on Immunisation proved too little, too late. The measles supplementary immunisation, scheduled to begin in June, began in October allegedly for lack of funds.

An official inquiry, headed by the Home Secretary, found that 16,620 children in the province had contracted measles during the epidemic between January 2013 and June 10, 2013. The report showed that the anti-measles campaign was carried out in only 19 districts and the campaign’s reach was below 90 per cent in most districts.

Lahore was worst-hit as 80 children succumbed to measles. Ten deaths from measles were reported from Kasur, nine in Sheikhupura, six in Rajanpur, five in Gujranwala, Jhang, Okara and Rahim Yar Khan each, four in Faisalabad, three in Vehari, two each in Bahawalpur and Narowal. One death each was reported from Rawalpindi, Hafizabad, Mandi Bahauddin, Sialkot, Khanewal, Sahiwal, Pakpattan, Toba Tek Singh, Sargodha and Bahawalnagar.

The health secretary was transferred over the department’s failure in controlling the epidemic.

In December, an official at the federal EPI told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity that the Accountant General Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) was not releasing $4.1 million contributed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the anti-measles immunisation programme, due to which the campaign had been halted. He also said that the campaign was getting ignored because the government and its international partners were focusing entirely on the eradication of polio.

EPI national programme manager Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar expressed hope that the funds would be released soon. “Although Pakistan had gotten off track in carrying out the anti-measles campaign this year, all issues pertaining to the release of funds will be resolves soon. An immunisation drive will be carried out in March,” he said.

Unlike the case with polio vaccination, no opposition to the measles vaccination campaign has been reported.

On Saturday, Advisor to Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique said the eradication of polio was a national as well as international responsibility and the Punjab government was determined to make the province polio-free in 2014. He said the government had taken steps to ensure that all children aged five years old and younger, were administered polio drops.

He said the complete eradication of polio virus was only possible if the virus was also eliminated in the no-go areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the FATA. He said hundreds of thousands of children in these areas missed the polio vaccination every year. 

Source: The Express Tribune

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