islamabad-Despite huge gains made in polio eradication Pakistan has to improve routine immunization to ensure that every child in the country is vaccinated against vaccine preventable diseases, speakers said on Tuesday.

 Federal Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (MoNHSRC), Saira Afzal Tarar in an event held here regarding World Immunization Week has urged parents in Pakistan to observe the immunization week this year by ensuring that every child in their household and community is vaccinated against vaccine preventable diseases. She vowed that the government is committed to saving lives of vulnerable children by ensuring smooth supply of vaccines against the 10 vaccine preventable diseases across the country. The Minister said that with continuous effort, the program has made significant progress towards this national goal for delivering safe and effective vaccines. The World Immunization Week is observed across the world from 24-30th April. The Federal Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in collaboration with Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) is coordinating various awareness raising and public engagement activities across the country.

The Global theme for this year is “Protected Together, #Vaccines Work”, encouraging all the stakeholders ,donors, health workers and the general public for integrating efforts together to improve immunization coverage. This requires a great deal of advocacy and investment by the Government to make immunization a priority and encourage the public to build immunity in children through immunization. Federal/Provincial EPI Programs, MoNHSRC and Provincial Departments of Health are working together to build a stronger infrastructure to reach every child, even the ones living in the remotest and marginalized community by providing vaccines through a reliable and efficient immunization supply chain system. The trained health workers are also providing vaccines to children in communities that were being missed in the past, through outreach services. Dr Saqlain Ahmed Gilani, National Program Manager, EPI appreciated the leadership of the Ministry along with support from all stakeholders including, Donors and international partners to celebrate immunization week. He also expressed that the current supply system is stronger than ever for delivering quality services. He reiterated that together as one team, we can strengthen immunity amongst children and build a healthy nation.  

Despite several challenges, vaccines are saving countless lives. In Pakistan, coverage for three doses of DTP-3 increased from 3% in 1980 to 62% in 2000 to an estimated 72% by the end of 2016. This figure reflects the percentage of surviving infants who received the first and third dose of Diphtheria and Tetanus Toxoid with Pertussis containing vaccine. The vaccinators/health workers contribute heavily towards these gains as they work tirelessly and sometimes in difficult conditions that affect their safety to ensure that life-saving vaccines reach approximately 7 Million children across Pakistan. Dr Rana Safdar, National Coordinator, Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for Polio Eradication said that to sustain the gains made in the Polio programme, we have to improve routine immunization across the country.

He hoped that this WIW will also be a moment to pay homage to our heroic frontline workers who have helped us contain the polio virus in some parts of the country. Despite these gains, the job is not yet finished and he is hopeful that the frontline workers will not only stop transmission of the polio virus soon but will also help improve routine immunization coverage in the country. 

Immunization is one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions to save the lives of children. Globally, immunization has helped to avert 2-3 million deaths among children from vaccine preventable diseases. Immunization offers a vital platform to bring other lifesaving interventions to children. Low immunization coverage on the other hand has an adverse effect on other health interventions for mothers and children. The push to priorities immunization is essential in providing equitable access to essential vaccines for all children and save more lives.