Alia, the three-year old daughter of a daily wage earner residing in Vehari, had been displaying symptoms of fever, shaking chills and very fast breathing. She was diagnosed with pneumonia. Her father, Akber, hardly had the money to cover his family needs but now the added medical expenses of his daughter further put him into a financial crunch. He had till date, spent over Rs15,000 on medicines, blood tests, X-rays, hospitalisation charges and transportation, all paid by borrowing from friends and family. Little did he know that there are vaccines available, free of cost, which protect against this dangerous disease under the Expanded Programme for Immunisation. 

Unfortunately, such frequent news on the ailing health of Pakistani children has desensitised the country, blinding healthcare officials from taking aggressive preventive measures to fight the disease burden. Pneumonia especially, has been largely ignored by the country’s officials. What is most alarming, is that Pakistan has been ranked among the three nations with the highest threats of pneumonia in the world. Recent sources indicate that more than 92,000 children die of pneumonia in Pakistan annually. 

The World Health Organisation states that only vaccines are likely to have a significant impact on the incidence of pneumococcal disease. It is pertinent to note that there are only two vaccines available for children that cover 10-13 different types of pneumonia. Even though the government has introduced vaccinations, through its Expanded Programs on Immunisation (EPI), more than 46% of children in Pakistan still remain unvaccinated. This is largely because of a lack of awareness regarding the availability and safety of vaccines amongst the Pakistani populace, particularly those residing in the rural areas. 

The government needs to work actively with the private sector and prominent non-governmental organisations to create awareness campaigns for the public on how to protect their children against this deadly infection. Controlling pneumonia in children requires better preventive interventions, with broader outreach and more effective vaccines that can guarantee prevention of this disease. 

Pakistan must thus work towards introducing more innovative and broader vaccines that protect children from dangerous diseases. To achieve this goal, it must strive to educate the public on the importance of vaccinating their children. People residing in rural localities should know that all vaccines under the EPI are free. The public, through educational programmes and initiatives, should also know that vaccination is completely safe as all vaccines undergo long and careful review by scientists, doctors, experts and the federal government. The government should spread messages regarding the dangers of remaining unvaccinated as well. Unvaccinated children can face hospitalisation, paralysis, brain-damage, hearing-loss and even death. 

It is imperative for the Pakistani government to be updated with the latest innovations in vaccinations as many developing countries across the globe have already made significant strides against the prevention of pneumococcal diseases (PDs) by inclusion of the latest and broadest vaccines. 

MUHAMMAD SAGHEER,  

Islamabad, November 8.