SHOTS TO SAVE LIVES

VAC­CINE MAGIC Thou­sands can be saved if rou­tine im­mu­ni­sa­tion be­comes just that — rou­tine

HT Ludhiana Live - - Front Page - San­chita Sharma

In­dia’s been free of po­lio since Jan­uary 13, 2011, and here’s why: each one of the coun­try’s 27 mil­lion new­borns got vac­ci­nated against the paralysing in­fec­tion not once but re­peat­edly for the first five years of their lives. Giv­ing po­lio drops to 800 mil­lion chil­dren each year is a spec­tac­u­lar feat by any stan­dards, but In­dia has failed to pig­gy­back on its suc­cess.

About 3,000 chil­dren un­der 5 years die each day — 16 lakh each year — but more than half of these deaths can be pre­vented if rou­tine vac­cines given free un­der the Cen­tre’s univer­sal im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­gramme (UIP) reach them. Full im­mu­ni­sa­tion cov­er­age still hov­ers at a low 61%, with chil­dren liv­ing in slums and back­ward ar­eas fall­ing out of the vac­ci­na­tion safety net.

THE MORE, THE BET­TER

Vac­cines work and there are num­bers to prove it. Measles deaths world­wide dropped by 75% be­tween 2000 and 2010, said the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion this week, with most of the 9.6 mil­lion lives saved be­ing in In­dia and Africa be­cause of in­creased vac­ci­na­tion against the dis­ease. Measles causes fever, cough and a rash and kills one of ev­ery 1,000 chil­dren it in­fects.

“The catch-up cam­paign to tar­get 135 mil­lion chil­dren with the sec­ond dose of measles vac­cine is ex­pected to pre­vent 1 lakh deaths,” says Dr Ajay Khera, deputy com­mis­sioner, Min­istry of Health and Fam­ily Wel­fare.

An­other new ad­di­tion is the pen- tava­lent vac­cine, which was in­tro­duced in Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala in midDe­cem­ber 2011, pro­tects against five dis­eases: Hib, diph­the­ria, per­tus­sis, tetanus and hepati­tis B. “It en­sures bet­ter com­pli­ance as it is given in a sin­gle shot and chil­dren don’t have to be taken for the usual five in­jec­tions,” says a WHO tech­ni­cal ex­pert, who did not wish to be named. World­wide, over 130 coun­tries use pen­tava­lent vac­cines.

CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCK­ING?

The big­gest chal­lenge, says Dr Henri van den Hombergh, chief of health, UNICEF, is that rou­tine im­mu­ni­sa­tion is ev­ery­thing but rou­tine in In­dia. “Cov­er­age still hov­ers around 61% be­cause it is not rou­tine for peo­ple to go for a ser­vice, just as it is not rou­tine for a lot of providers to be there at work,” says Dr van den Hombergh. “Most of­ten, when you ask peo­ple why they did not get their child vac­ci­nated, the an­swer is, ‘we did not know’,” he says.

To im­prove com­pli­ance, the Cen­tre’s in­tro­duced a name and cell­phone-based track­ing sys­tem of preg­nant moth­ers and chil­dren through a web-en­abled sys­tem with a data­base of more than 10 mil­lion chil­dren. “Par­ents are sent re­minder SMSES be­fore the due vac­ci­na­tion date. Health work­ers, too, are sent the list of chil­dren due for vac­ci­na­tion through SMS. This sys­tem will help us track each child,” says Dr Khera.

If the gov­ern­ment is as ef­fec­tive in en­sur­ing that health providers are phys­i­cally present with the vac­cines needed, vac­cine-pre­ventable dis­eases will soon be­come an anom­aly in In­dia as they are in de­vel­oped coun­tries.

VIJAYANAND GUPTA / HT PHOTO

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