islamabad-Looking back on the last three years of achievement, Dr Saqlain Ahmed Gilani, National Program Manager, Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) holds his head high. “I would not say that we have achieved a mile stone, but I will also not be wrong if I say that we are on our way to achieving one”, claims the National Program Manager.

In the last three years EPI, the government’s Immunization program set its challenges and timelines to iron out the hurdles faced by the program by establishing the momentum in achieving its objectives.

The project team is working together to build a stronger infrastructure to reach every child in both urban and rural areas of the country. To ensure equitable immunization coverage, the programme is making an effort to reach every child living in the hard to reach and urban slums of the country which account for a large number of unimmunized children.

The World Immunization Week is celebrated in the last week of April each year by WHO and its partners with an aim to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against the disease.

Responsible for ensuring lifesaving vaccines to children and mothers, Expanded Program on Immunization was launched in Pakistan in 1978. Since then the program has been immunizing children under 23 months and pregnant women. Starting with the vaccination against 06 diseases, the program today protects children against 10 childhood diseases which include Childhood TB, Poliomyelitis, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Measles, Meningitis, Hepatitis B, Pneumonia and Diarrhea, completely free of cost.

To generate demand for immunization, Dr Gilani’s team has been making efforts to sensitize the parliamentarians on the important role that they can and should play as representatives of their community to ensure that mothers complete their children’s immunization and prioritize it.

Another major step was to determine the roles and responsibilities of the provinces in the initial post 18th Amendment years after devolution. Today, due to earnest efforts of the EPI team working under the leadership of Dr Gilani, there is great coordination between the federal and the provincial EPIs as well as the donors and partners.

However, Dr Gillani humbly passes on all the credit to his boss, Federal Minister Saira Afzal Tarar, who is leading a competent team that made a lot of efforts to bring all the concerned personnel on one table by forming Inter Ministerial Committee. “I must say that I received a very positive response as everyone onboard realized that we all share the same objective and it cannot be achieved until and unless all are on the same page,” informed Dr Gilani.

In the past, there have been some mishaps as the as the system to deliver vaccines and ensure their efficacy was quite ineffective. In these three years the program focused on the timely delivery systems and drew a mechanism of check and balance. 

Vaccines require a certain temperature to be maintained before being administered and keeping in view the difficult terrain and remote hard to reach areas of the country, the program has strengthened the cold chain storage facility up to the district level as the government spends billions of rupees on these life saving vaccines and it is pertinent to keep them safe, thus providing vaccines through a reliable and efficient immunisation supply chain system before administration. He also expressed his satisfaction that the current supply system is stronger than ever for delivery of quality services.

“Today the delivery system of the 10 lifesaving vaccines for millions of under five children and expectant mothers are delivered through an effective cold chain and monitored through electronic systems developed for the purpose” informed Dr Gillani.

Immunization is all about vaccines. Securing smooth flow of funds for the sake of continuity of the program was pivotal.  “When I took over this department, funding was insufficient. But today, we cannot complain of being resource poor. Of course it is a continuous process and we need to keep on working in advance” informs the NPM.

The staff working on EPI is trained regularly in order to keep them abreast of the latest developments and to build their capacity for new vaccines introduced in the program. Today a huge number of Lady Health Workers are trained to independently vaccinate children to ensure that life-saving vaccines reach approximately 7 Million children across Pakistan.As one team, we can strengthen immunity amongst children and build a healthy nation but for that we need to create demand for immunization and work together to achieve our goal. 

Immunization saves millions of lives and is widely recognized as one of the worlds most successful and cost-effective health interventions. The goal of the 2018 World Immunization Week  - “Protected Together, #VaccinesWork”, is to urge greater action on immunization around the world, with a particular focus on spotlighting the role that everyone can play in this effort, from donors to individuals.