Measles vaccination: High Court says saving 85% children not enough

Health Department told to improve store vaccine storage, administer vitamin-A.


Our Correspondent May 29, 2013
Usman Ali (front), 3, suffering from measles, lies on a bed after being brought to the Mayo Hospital for treatment in Lahore May 27, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

LAHORE:


Justice Muhammad Khalid Mahmood Khan of the Lahore High Court on Wednesday expressed annoyance over Extended Programme for Immunisation (EPI) Director Malik Munir’s comment that the vaccination campaign had saved 85 per cent of the children from measles.


“Does that mean the court should tolerate the deaths of 4.5 million out of 30 million children?” Justice Khan observed, “Don’t make a mockery of the court.”

The Health Department was also directed to produce the record of steps taken over the past three years to control measles.



The department was told to make proper arrangements to store the vaccine and provide measles patients with vitamin-A.

Petitioner Advocate Azhar Siddique sought stern action over the government’s failure to control the measles outbreak. He asked for a judicial inquiry into the matter to determine the cause behind the increasing number of casualties due to the disease.



Siddique said more than 100 children had died from the disease in the Punjab and the death count was increasing despite claims of a vaccination campaign in Lahore.

He said that while the Health Department claimed to have vaccinated two million children in Lahore, 28 million children in the province were yet to be vaccinated.

The storage system for the vaccine was 40 years old, he said. The department did not have the capacity or resources to ensure the required temperature, Siddique said.

“When the vaccine is transported outside Lahore, it simply turns to water and is rendered ineffective,” he said.

The court remarked that the government had stood by counting the casualties. The epidemic required the type of emergency measures the government had taken during the dengue fever epidemic two years ago, the court observed.

EPI Director Malik Munir told the court that children in Lahore had been vaccinated. A vaccination campaign would be carried out in 12 high-risk districts next month, he said.

Siddique, however, said that the vaccination campaign in Lahore was eyewash. Children had not been administered vitamin-A drops, he said, neither had the government taken any steps in four years to control the disease.

He said several officials at the department worked with the World Health Organisation and other international NGOs. They submitted fake reports of the vaccination campaign and collected benefits, the counsel alleged.

He demanded the registration of murder cases against negligent health officials under Article 9 (No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law) and 14 (Inviolability of dignity of man).

The EPI director said that the department was only given funds for a city-wide inoculation campaign.

The shipment of vaccine for a wider campaign will be received in June.

The court expressed annoyance with the EPI director’s statement about having saved 85 per cent children and asked whether the remaining 15 percent children could be left to die.

The court observed that every life was precious. The judge said that the department should provide children the best possible facilities for treatment and prevention of measles.

The hearing was adjourned till June 11.

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

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