Public health Govt slow to respond to measles cases, says LHC

Vaccination drive across Lahore this week, in rest of province in June.


Our Correspondent April 29, 2013
At least 10,160 children have been infected and 60 killed by the disease in the province so far, says the health secretary. PHOTO: REUTERS / FILE

LAHORE:


The Lahore High Court told off the Punjab government on Monday for its belated response to the measles epidemic, after the health secretary explained the administration’s plans to vaccinate millions of children against the disease.


The government is to conduct an “accelerated campaign” to vaccinate three million children in Lahore in the current week, and a mass campaign across the province in June when 33 million doses of the measles vaccine are procured, Health Secretary Arif Nadeem told the court on Monday.

At least 10,160 children have been infected and 60 killed by the disease in the province so far, the health secretary said in his reply to a petition seeking an inquiry into the causes of the epidemic and the government’s “inadequate response”.

Going through the Health Department’s response, Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan observed that the government appeared to have woken up to the danger only after the court had taken notice of the issue. “Children are dying owing to the measles epidemic and the Punjab government is busy in the transfer and posting of patwaris,” he remarked.

Vaccination campaigns

Nadeem said in his reply that a World Health Organisation mission had recommended a mass province-wide vaccination campaign in the Punjab that would cost around Rs3 billion. The Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation had committed to paying Rs1.6 billion of this, while the Punjab government would pay the rest.

A Rs460 million summary for the procurement of 33 million doses of the measles vaccine has been initiated for the chief minister’s approval, he said. The vaccine is expected to be delivered in the first half of June, at which point children across the province would be immunised against the disease, he said.

In Lahore, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate children aged between six months and 10 years on Monday (April 29), he said. A total of 1,300 teams have been set up aiming to vaccinate three million children by May 5. “All logistic arrangements like vaccines, human resources and cold chains have been ensured and a comprehensive micro plan has been prepared,” Nadeem said.

The secretary said that so far, the disease had claimed 60 lives while 10,160 cases had been confirmed all over the Punjab. The outbreak was a result of low immunisation coverage, overcrowding and poor nutrition. Measles outbreaks are common after floods and mass vaccination campaigns were being conducted every three or four years, he said. The last mass campaign was conducted in 2008, with a follow up in 19 districts in 2010, he said.

Justice Khan directed the Punjab government to step up its efforts to check the spread of the disease and the health secretary to submit a detailed report on the steps taken to control the outbreak at the next hearing.

Petition

The petitioner, the Judicial Activism Panel, is seeking a judicial inquiry into the epidemic that fixes responsibility on government functionaries for the failure to control the disease.

The petitioner said the government had failed to take protective measures as the vaccine was not even available, and as it had not conducted an immunisation drive for three years. The government had failed its duty as per Articles 9, 14, 15, 15, 17, 18, 25, 37 and 38 of the Constitution, the petitioner said.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2013.

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