The state government’s focus on polio immunisation may be putting children at risk of other diseases.
The third District Level Household Survey found that while the coverage of polio vaccines increased by six per cent between 2002-4 and 2008, the proportion of children who had been administered three doses of DPT vaccine fell by 10 per cent during the same period.
Only 78 per cent of children (12 to 23 months) in the state had received three doses of DPT vaccine in 2008 as compared to 88 per cent in 2002-4.
The DPT vaccine is important as it immunises children against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. Researchers from the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) which co-ordinated the survey said the decline was probably because parents were not turning up for the second or third dose.
The number of infants who were fully immunized also dropped by 1.8 per cent between 2002-4 and 2008. The National Family Health Survey in 2005-6 had also revealed that immunisation rates were declining rather than improving.
“Concentration on polio immunisation and lack of co-ordination has led to neglect of other vaccines,” said independent expert and paediatrician Dr Ramesh Potdar.
“Health workers go door to door to give polio drops but don’t care to remind families that they have to go to immunisation centres for other equally important vaccines.”
Dr Potdar said it is even more important to motivate parents for DPT vaccine because they get scared when the child suffers from side effects such as fever after the first dose.
The efficiency of the government’s family planning services also seems to have declined. Only 18 per cent of married couples in Maharashtra who were not using any family planning method were counselled by health workers to do so as compared to 20 per cent in 2002-4.
And, 14 per cent of women were not using any contraception even though they did not want to have children when they were interviewed.
“This is a significant figure because it shows the unmet need for family planning. In a developing country like India, where population growth rate is already high, one doesn’t want unwanted pregnancies,” said Dr.Balram Paswan, one of the researchers from IIPS.
Moreover, only 17 per cent of couples using family planning methods had been informed about the side effects of the methods as opposed to 24 per cent in 2002-4.