LAHORE - Vaccine that can help prevent the deaths of 100 children per day in Pakistan is on the verge of being included in the EPI programme.

Officials of the Ministry for National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) are meeting later this week to approve the final application to the Global Alliance on Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI) for inclusion of the Rotavirus Vaccine in EPI, the deadline for which is May 1, 2016.

The inclusion of the Rotavirus Vaccine in the local EPI program would be a major achievement as it would offer protection to millions of children each year from this deadly disease. In March this year a delegation headed by Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO of GAVI had assured local authorities of arranging funding to make the Rotavirus vaccine part of Pakistan’s immunization program.

According to a health expert, Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children worldwide and it is estimated that 527,000 deaths (out of 800,000 fatalities annually) occur due to diarrheal disease caused by rotavirus gastroenteritis. A majority of these deaths are reported in low income African and Asian countries.

An estimated 140,000 infants in Pakistan suffer from severe rotavirus gastroenteritis, annually out of which, nearly 40,000 die each year. With more than 100 children losing their lives every day to this disease, Pakistan is one of the six countries that together account for nearly half of all rotavirus related deaths worldwide. He added that the birth cohort in Pakistan is 5.5 million whereas the infant mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate are 66 and 81 per 1000 live births, respectively.

Globally, one in nine child deaths result from diarrheal disease during the first 5 years of life and diarrhea is the second leading causes of childhood morbidity and mortality.

Call to extending scope: Experts have urged increasing scope and reach of Expanded Program on Immunisation as 27 per cent of deaths of children below five years age are due to vaccine preventable diseases.

Briefing the media about benefits of vaccination in the backdrop of World Immunization Week at a local hotel yesterday, President Pakistan Pediatric Association Dr Tahir Masood said that immunization was one of the most cost-effective health investments and a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases.

He said that ‘Vaccines protect children by preparing their bodies to fight many potentially deadly diseases. They are responsible to control many infectious diseases that were once common around the world, including smallpox, polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Further, vaccines are considered second only to clean drinking water in controlling infectious diseases. ‘Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions preventing two to three million deaths every year,’ Tahir added.

Vice President PPA Dr Naeem Zafar said that “every year, globally, Pneumonia kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five years, more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Rotavirus gastroenteritis is estimated to cause more than half a million child deaths. Two billion people are infected with Hepatitis B virus and about 780,000 people die, all of these can be prevented through vaccination and immunization”.

“Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases could return, resulting in increased – and unnecessary – illness, disability, and death,” he added.

Talking about how vaccination change lives, President PPA Punjab Dr Asif Kaleem Sheikh said Measles vaccination resulted in a 75 per cent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide, while illnesses and complications caused by influenza could be reduced by up to 60 per cent, and deaths by 80 per cent in elderly patients.

“Polio cases have been reduced by 99 per cent from over 300,000 per year in 1988 to less than 650 cases in 2011. Smallpox was eradicated globally in a time span of 10 years,’ he said.

General Secretary PPA Punjab Dr Haroon Hamid said that “we have to educate parents about the importance of vaccination and persuade them to bring their children to nearest EPI centers. Despite availability of free facility, vaccines coverage is very low. Lack of awareness and socio cultural barriers are the biggest reason to it”.

‘Media is the only force which can create mass level awareness and help protect our children from deadly diseases,’ he concluded.