India answers the call to vaccinate children

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Every year, the failure to properly vaccinate children contributes to about 1.5 million deaths globally from diseases which could otherwise be prevented with immunizations. In 2013, almost 22 million infants, one-fifth of the world’s children, missed the routine vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus (DTP3), NDTV reported. Half of these children were in just three countries: India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

As of now, 129 countries have above 90% immunization levels. This saves an estimated three million lives every year. Even though there has been a dramatic improvement in immunization rates in recent decades, there are signs that this upward climb has flattened recently. Additionally, immunization coverage around the world varies with the different kinds of vaccines. While there is 84% global coverage for DTP3, polio and measles, there is only 14% for rotavirus, which is a common cause of severe diarrhoea leading to death.

In India, according to one report, only 44% of children aged 1-2 years have received the recommended basic immunizations, and the rate is lower in rural areas. In the past the country has had some remarkable successes with vaccination campaigns, most notably by eliminating polio as an endemic disease since 2011.

In April 2015 the Indian government launched a new vaccination initiative with the goal of achieving 90% vaccinatiion coverage by 2020. The multi-phased programme will first focus on 201 high-priority districts, then expand to cover 297 more districts. India has 640 (maybe 641) districts in total. As a first step, the programme aims to provide catch-up immunizations to all children under 2 years of age and pregnant women.

The programme will focus on seven diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, measles and Hepatitis B. It will also cover an additional two diseases, Japanese Encephalitis and Haemophilus influenza Type B, in some districts. The absence of rotavirus is concerning, since diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death among children in India.

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