India’s immunisation drive: Battling diseases, ensuring a healthy future - Hindustan Times

India’s immunisation drive: Battling diseases, ensuring a healthy future

ByHarsh Vardhan
Dec 24, 2019 07:52 PM IST

The government aimed to increase the immunisation coverage of children to 90%. The result was heartening

As the world stands on the threshold of eradicating several dreaded diseases and having already eliminated some others, there is no doubt that immunisation has been the single most-effective public health intervention tool in the 21st century. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that immunisation saves lives of 2.5 million people annually and protects millions more from child mortality, birth defects and lifelong disabilities. The world is today closer than ever to eradicating polio. Measles and rubella have been eliminated from the Americas, and maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eradicated in Southeast Asia.

There is no reason for us to not make an effort to ensure 100% vaccination(Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times)
There is no reason for us to not make an effort to ensure 100% vaccination(Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times)

India has always battled to keep its people safe and healthy. On December 25, 2014, we launched a flagship vaccination programme called “Mission Indradhanush” (MI), aimed at protecting children and pregnant women against seven vaccine-preventable diseases. The mission was launched on this day to coincide with the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Since then, the basket of vaccines has been expanded, and, now, we protect children against 10 vaccine-preventable diseases: Diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, rubella, severe form of childhood tuberculosis, rotavirus diarrhoea, hepatitis B and meningitis and pneumonia (caused by hemophilus influenza type B) at the national level, and against two diseases at the sub-national level: Pneumococcal Pneumonia and Japanese Encephalitis.

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In December, the government rolled out the Intensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI 2.0) for focused and sharper efforts towards full immunisation coverage in 272 districts across 27 states/Union Territories. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the mission has gone down to the block-level, covering 650 blocks in 109 districts of the two states. Therefore, December 25 does not only celebrate the fifth anniversary of MI, but also exemplifies the resolve of this government towards expanding the universal health coverage goals by sustained action, guided by “Sabka Saath for Sabka Swasthya and Sabka Vikas”.

Seven decades ago, when India gained freedom, it faced several infectious and life-threatening diseases, predominantly smallpox and tuberculosis, which assumed epidemic proportions. Yet if we were to analyse the immunisation journey as a whole, it has been long-yet-successful one. Today, India has been certified polio-free, and since then, we have also been also certified free of maternal and neonatal tetanus.

Lauding India’s achievement, the world’s most respected philanthropist, Bill Gates, said: “India’s accomplishment in eradicating polio is the most impressive global health success story I’ve ever seen.” Twenty six years ago, in December 1993, while I was the health minister of Delhi, I learnt about the misery of thousands of families who had infants suffering from polio. I resolved to start working in a mission mode towards eradication of polio from India, and soon I became the principal pioneer of the national campaign for a polio-free India. Indeed, the Pulse Polio drive became the largest mass campaign, with exemplary public-private partnership. India was certified polio-free in 2014. . I have penned my memorable experiences of this journey in the form of a book called A Tale of Two Drops.

The idea of Mission Indradhanush had evolved with the aim of increasing the immunisation coverage of children to 90%. The results have been heartening. The various phases of MI, including the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan and the Extended Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, have provided life-saving vaccines to more than 3.39 crore children and 87.2 lakh pregnant women. Under-five mortality has declined from 126 per thousand live births to 37, much faster than global rates.

Encouraged by the outcome, an Intensified MI was launched in 2017 at Vadnagar, Gujarat, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to further accelerate the progress. The PM called upon citizens to turn IMI into a Jan Andolan (a people’s movement), and urged communities to get their children vaccinated. The IMI 2.0 has now been launched with the mantra of “Koi Peechhe Na Chhoote” (No one should be left behind). To do this, we need to invigorate all stakeholders to work towards our promise of universal healthcare, which includes assured, safe and high quality health for all.

My aim is beyond the planned goal of 90%. There is no reason for us to not make an extraordinary effort to ensure 100% vaccination, and ensure a healthier nation.

Today, under the visionary leadership of the PM, the nation is working its way towards a New India, an India of our dreams, ready to unlock the potential and harness the energies of its 1.35 billion people to free the nation from the miseries of poverty and disease. Come, let us join the effort with vigour and achieve the vision of a “Swastha Bharat, Samriddh Bharat”(Healthy India, Prosperous India).

Harsh Vardhan is Union minister of health and family welfare
The views expressed are personal
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