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The universal immunisation plan needs a booster dose

India continues to face challenges despite making progress in the health sector. There has been a significant fall in maternal deaths, but the country still has the highest number of newborn deaths. NK Ganguly writes.

ht view Updated: Sep 14, 2014 23:34 IST

India continues to face challenges despite making progress in the health sector. There has been a significant fall in maternal deaths, but the country still has the highest number of newborn deaths. To reduce child mortality, the NDA has introduced four new vaccines against rubella, inactivated polio, rotavirus and Japanese encephalitis as part of the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP).

According to Unicef’s review of child rights in South Asia, released on Thursday, India’s neighbours, except Afghanistan and Pakistan, have done better on all key social and health indicators. An important point to note in their success is the utilisation of new and improved diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. These are some critical tools that can go a long way towards improving health outcomes. Though India has taken steps to expand access to these tools, a lot needs to be done especially when it comes to vaccination. India has the capability to manufacture vaccines. Rubella and meningococcal vaccines, made in India, have saved many lives in South America and Africa. But many life-saving vaccines are still unavailable to the people who need them in India. The fact that India has been declared polio-free, after decades of tireless campaign, shows that the success can be replicated to eradicate other childhood diseases.

As India prepares to introduce the rotavirus vaccine as part of the national immunisation programme, recently experts from around the world gathered at a symposium in Delhi to discuss how diarrhoea-causing rotavirus can be tackled and what are the best practices that India can adopt.

However, our country has an unfortunate history of resisting vaccine introductions. There are demands that the pentavalent vaccine — that protects children against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Hib in one shot— be dropped from the government’s immunisation programme. This is despite the fact that several countries have re-introduced the vaccine and confirmed that there’s no link between it and the reported infant deaths. Not introducing this vaccine through public programmes means only those who can afford to pay can get their children immunised against these five diseases.

It’s now up to state governments to ensure that the new vaccines that are now part of the UIP are available to children in every nook and corner. Also, efforts should be made to allay people’s apprehensions regarding certain vaccines. We must realise that unless all children are healthy, regardless of economic status or geographical location, we’re holding our country back.

NK Ganguly is former director general, ICMR, and currently the visiting professor of eminence, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute. The views expressed by the author are personal.