KARACHI: The Zindagi Mehfooz (ZM) Digital Immunisation Registry, a mobile phone programme that will store data of immunised children in Sindh in an easily accessible form, was launched by Health Minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro at a ceremony on Tuesday evening.
The application, developed by the Interactive Research and Development (IRD) and Indus Health Network and funded by the World Health Organisation with the support of Gavi, was launched after a successful two-year pilot project carried out in District Korangi and some areas of Shikarpur district. The teams succeeded in expanding vaccination coverage from 29% to 54% children in the sample areas.
IRD's Dr Salman Khan hosted the ceremony, which was attended by Dr Mandhro along with Health Secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, Indus Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdul Bari Khan, Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh Project Director Dr Agha M Ashfaq, IRD founder Dr Aamir Khan and the head of the team that developed the registry application, Dr Subash Chandir.
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The project has helped us inch closer to the fulfillment of our dream of having all children in Sindh immunised, Dr Bari said.
Dr Pechuho said it was a tedious and often impossible job for vaccinators to trace the immunisation records of children from registers. "Parents keep bringing their children to the vaccination centres and the teams keep filling the registers. However, it is very difficult to trace the records of the children when they are brought for their next vaccination," the health secretary remarked. "So many parents have been refusing polio drops for their children. However, we never have definite statistics," he said, adding that once the government has reliable data, it can take appropriate measures to deal with the issue.
The secretary stressed the need to create awareness about vaccinations. "Rather than calling it 'routine immunisation', we must call it 'compulsory immunisation'," he said, adding that recently, around five children died in Tando Allahyar, presumably due to diseases that could have been prevented by vaccinations.
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Dr Ashfaq said the EPI targets children against nine preventable diseases, including polio, measles, diphtheria and hepatitis B. He added that after a few months, vaccination against rotavirus will also be included in the programme, raising the number of preventable diseases covered by the EPI to 10.
He said recently the number of reported diseases in Sindh has risen because surveillance has improved. Earlier there was limited data collection and so diseases were not reported, he claimed, adding that the government can only take effective measures once it has reliable data. A programme like the ZM registry would maintain a reliable database for the government and eventually help increase the number of immunised children.
From now on, vaccinators will issue an EPI card containing a barcode to parents, explained Dr Chandir, adding that whenever parents come to the vaccination centre, their child's entire vaccination history will be available by scanning the barcode.
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The application also has an offline mode, enabling it to work in remote areas without internet access, Dr Chandir said, adding that the registry will enable tracking of vaccinators in real time and issue virtual immunisation certificates. More than 155,000 have so far been registered in the programme, he maintained.
Dr Mandhro asserted that all citizens should contribute to creating awareness about vaccinations whether they have access to technology or not. "We do not realise that a small effort brings a positive change," he said.
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