ISLAMABAD - Marking the World Immunisation Week, the government is launching a nationwide measles campaign to respond to the current measles outbreak in parts of the country.

The World Immunisation Week (April 24-30, 2014) commences from today with an aim to promote one of the world's most powerful tools for health - the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

The theme for 2014 is "Are you up-to-date?" This year's campaign seeks to address the knowledge gap, which can prevent people from getting vaccinated.

At a press briefing organised on the eve, Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar shared that the government is launching a nationwide phased measles campaign throughout the country with a total target of vaccinating 62,493,411 children against measles with a free additional dose while 33,329,819 children will be given polio drops during the measles campaign.

The nationwide measles campaign will be conducted in a phased manner in all provinces of Pakistan. The campaign will be conducted as a rolling campaign at fixed and outreach centers and schools spanning over a period of 12 working days, she said.

She appealed the public through the media briefing to realise vaccination as right of their children and immunise them against all vaccine preventable diseases.

Sharing the scope of work, the minister briefed the media that under the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), 'we are providing free vaccination services to immunise children against 9 vaccine preventable diseases. Currently over 5 million children are being immunised against 9 vaccine preventable diseases-tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, hepatitis, meningitis and pneumonia - and over 6 million pregnant mothers are being immunised against tetanus'.

In 2021 Pakistan introduced pneumococcal vaccine to protect Pakistani children from pneumonia. With this launch, Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine.

But the country's immunisation indicators are yet to reach the expected benchmark for saving children against dreadful diseases, which are preventable by vaccines, she regretted. She objected that the federal government gives resources to the provinces for 100 percent coverage but it remains at sub-optimal emphasizing that the loopholes be plugged by the provinces.  She said the parents, 'unfortunately, still do not view immunisation as a right of their children resulting in poor utilisation of immunisation services made available by the government.

Children born in health facilities somehow get vaccinated but majority that are born at homes are hardly vaccinated against the said nine diseases that is one of the main causes of such outbreak. In Pakistan, each year 50,000 children die of pneumonia. And the past three years have seen an alarming rise in reported cases of measles where 14,000 cases were reported across the country, she added.

Provincial Secretary Health, Sindh, Dr Suresh Kumar informed that this year Sindh reported three polio cases and by the next year it would be polio free as after 2012 the system has been handed over to Deputy Commissioners and Additional Deputy Commissioners that is proving fruitful.

According to officials, insufficient allocations to meet EPI requirements, gross human resource deficiency at provincial and district level and poor utilisation due to inadequate demand remain key challenges for the immunization programme.