ISLAMABAD -

To advocate for the cause of protecting the mother and the child from preventable diseases through immunisation, the World Immunisation Week and Mother and Child Week was launched here on Wednesday.

This year the vaccination week focuses on measles elimination with the slogan 'stop measles now!' and every child must be immunised against 9 deadly diseases 6 times after birth from a nearest health centre or hospital is the key message.

Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Mir Hassan Domki, while presiding over the launching ceremony, emphasised that the parents and caretakers of children need to realise that it is their moral, ethical and religious obligation to ensure their children are protected against diseases and disability through completion of the immunisation course that is accessible free of cost everywhere in the country.

He informed that the week is being observed simultaneously in all provinces and during the week provincial health departments would conduct several activities including immunisation of children and pregnant mothers, counselling, health sessions for communities, promotion of Oral Rehydration Salt and education on prevention against measles through free immunisation available at all health centres and hospitals.

Pakistan has much more to do to ensure its population enjoys the full benefits of vaccination, said Ms. Karen Allen, Deputy Representative United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Pakistan.

"In 2011, only 80 per cent of Pakistani children under two years of age were fully immunised - that's translates to more than 800,00 children each and every year who do not enjoy the protection they should have from immunisation. This in turn contributes to a high burden of child deaths in Pakistan, with an estimated 352,000 children dying before their fifth birthday in 2011, the fourth highest number of any country in the world. And Pakistan is one of only three remaining countries where wild poliovirus continues to infect children."

Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions, preventing between 2 and 3 million childhood deaths every year by protecting against the nine deadly diseases of the childhood including TB, Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), Tetanus, Meningitis,  Hepatitis B, Measles and Pneumonia, she stressed.

Pakistan is currently facing a high incidence of measles due to low measles immunisation coverage despite the presence of several opportunities for vaccination, including two routine doses of measles vaccine and periodic follow up supplementary immunisation activities, said Ministry of IPC Secretary Faridullah Khan.

He said all the countries of the region have set 2015 as the target for measles elimination but this goal can only be achieved with the strong commitment of every country to increase measles vaccination coverage to at least 95 percent and to promote a high level of awareness in all communities about the threat of the disease and the benefits of the vaccination.

"In Pakistan more than 352,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday almost one in five of theses deaths are due to pneumonia. While the new Pneumococcal vaccine cannot prevent every case of pneumonia, they do prevent a significant proportion of cases and therefore have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives from preventable sickness and death."

At this critical stage when new vaccines are being introduced and the country is also experiencing measles epidemic, outbreaks of diphtheria and tetanus it is imperative that we should all join our hands together to strengthen routine immunisation in the country so that no child of ours is left unvaccinated against the nine lethal diseases of childhood, he maintained.  Dr Nima Abid, World Health Organisation's polio team leader in Pakistan, anchorperson Moeed Pirzada and Tauseeq Haider also highlighted the importance of the immunization during the launch.