Health experts of Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) on Saturday urged parents and government to strive to increase the coverage of immunisation programme from current 57 per cent to 80 per cent in order to protect children from vaccine preventable diseases.

The World Immunisation Week is observed in the last week of April every year highlighting the importance of immunisation to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases across the world.

Head of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Dr Tabish Hazir, President PPA federal chapter, Dr Asifa Murtaza, and Head of Pediatrics, Islamic International Medical College Rawalpindi, Dr Samiya Naeemullah while briefing the press said that there should be a two pronged strategy adopted as a nation, the free vaccines available at Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) centres should be utilised by all segments of society while the vaccines not included in EPI programme but available in market should be utilised by those who can afford.

"In Pakistan we still have children suffering due to vaccine preventable diseases like measles and pneumonia. So, it is the time to learn that infants and children need vaccines to protect them from harmful diseases as vaccines have the potential to have millions of lives protected from deaths and disabilities," they added. They mentioned that in Pakistan the coverage of EPI programme that prevents children against nine deadly diseases through vaccination is very low, which is the main reason we are far behind in achieving our Millennium Development Goals. "The so-called best coverage of EPI programme is in Punjab and that is 57 per cent, but considering the deaths of children by dint of vaccine-preventable diseases this coverage is extremely low," they added.

The government should aggressively try to increase this coverage to 80 per cent in the country to get maximum benefits of the programme and save children. "Also, the people should be encouraged to get their children vaccinated against typhoid, MMR, hepatitis A, chicken pox, and rotavirus if they can afford as they have not been included in the EPI programme yet," they suggested. Pakistan is among the 180 countries currently observing the World Immunisation Week. According to estimates, around 100,000 Pakistani children under the age of five die of diseases like measles, pneumonia and tetanus every year. They informed the audience that measles vaccination resulted in a 71 per cent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2011 worldwide. Similarly, through vaccination illnesses and complications caused by influenza can be reduced by 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. Some countries have witnessed decline in hospitalisation due to rotavirus infection of up to 80 per cent.

But, sad facts about the most deadly preventable diseases in Pakistan tell us that in Pakistan pneumonia kills around 100,000 children per year and polio, which has been eradicated almost the world over, is still affecting our population in 2012 as only three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988. "This is a serious concern, we should now take action against such deadly diseases and must get our children vaccinated," they suggested.

There are nine diseases that can be prevented from the Routine Childhood Immunization program (EPI) going on in Pakistan that includes Polio, Pneumonia, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, Measles, Tuberculosis.

The government offers vaccines against these 9 diseases free of cost in the EPI Program. "The parents need to take their children to the nearest vaccination centre/EPI centre and get them vaccinated/protected against these deadly diseases. There are approximately 7000 EPI centers developed nationwide. Also, every public hospital/institute has an EPI Centre," they added.