KARACHI: Despite the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) running since the past 32 years, its total coverage is just 54%, said health experts at a press briefing at Karachi Press Club on Monday, organised to highlight the importance of World Immunisation Week.
According to them, 27% of the deaths in Pakistan of children aged less than five are due to vaccine-preventable diseases. They added that awareness among parents is very low and they need to be educated about the importance and availability of vaccines at EPI centres to get their children vaccinated.
EPI was launched in Pakistan in 1978 and is currently providing vaccinations against nine diseases: tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) and Pneumococcal disease.
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Dr Ayesha Mehnaz, general secretary of Pakistan Paediatric Association Central, and professor at Civil Hospital, Karachi, said that immunisation is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is one of the most cost-effective health investments.
"Vaccines protect children by preparing their bodies to fight many potentially deadly diseases," said Dr Mehnaz. "They are responsible to control many infectious diseases that were once common around the world, including smallpox, polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type B."
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She said that vaccines are considered second only to clean drinking water in terms of controlling infectious diseases. "Immunisation is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions and prevents between two and three million deaths every year," she added.
On a question about why there is a need for vaccination, Pakistan Paediatric Association, Karachi chapter convener and Dow University of Health Science assistant professor Dr Khalid Shafi said that pneumonia kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five years every year across the globe, which is more than those from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), malaria and tuberculosis combined. About 780,000 people die of the hepatitis B virus every year. "All of these can be prevented through vaccination and immunisation," added Khalid.
Globally, 17% of deaths in the under-five age group are due to vaccine-preventable diseases. "Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases could return, resulting in increased and unnecessary illness, disability, and death," he added.
Talking about how vaccination changes lives, Dr Saleem Paryani, general secretary of Pakistan Paediatric Association, Sindh, said measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in deaths due to measles between 2000 and 2013 worldwide. "Polio cases have been reduced by 99% from over 300,000 per year in 1988 to less than 650 cases in 2011," said Dr Paryani. "Smallpox was eradicated globally in a time span of 10 years."
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2016.
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