Pakistan

Determined to protect every child in Pakistan from measles

By Abdul Sami Malik

24–30 April is World Immunization Week. Immunization is a successful and cost-effective way to save children’s lives. UNICEF has been a driving force behind universal immunization since the 1980s – behind reaching each and every child.

UNICEF and its partners are now intensifying their efforts to ensure that the poorest and most disadvantaged children have access to immunization.

In Pakistan, the incidence of measles started to increase in 2010 because of country-wide floods. Successive flooding made things worse. More than 10,000 cases of measles – and some 400 deaths – were reported in 2012.

Vaccinators like Kausar Parveen are pushing harder than ever to reach every child.

QUETTA, Pakistan, 2 May 2013 – Kausar Parveen prepares an injection. Her resolve to vaccinate every child within her reach has kept her going with the same vigour for quarter of a century.

In Pakistan, vaccinators like Kausar Parveen are pushing harder than ever to protect every child from preventable childhood diseases.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

“I love children and want every child in my area, city and country to be protected against communicable diseases, especially measles,” says Ms. Parveen.

“As a young woman,” she adds, “I wanted to become a doctor – but got married at an early age and could not fulfil my ambition. My sister-in-law was a vaccinator, and that inspired me to become one. I did a six-month training course, and, since 1988, have been vaccinating children in this city. I have vaccinated my own children, grandchildren and every child born in my family.”

Accessing healthcare a challenge

Ms. Parveen lives and works in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan. Over the past few years, the province, which is the largest in area in the country, has seen a sudden rise in the incidence of measles. Conflict, low population density, low literacy rate and rugged, mountainous terrain make access to health services a major challenge for the people of Balochistan.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2013/Zaidi
Nayab, 4, lives in hilly terrain in the periphery of Hussainabad, Quetta. Vaccinators are pushing harder than ever to reach children like Nayab with jabs that will protect them against such preventable illnesses as measles.

Every working day, Ms. Parveen leaves her house in the morning and walks to the Municipal Dispensary Vaccination Centre of Hussainabad. There, she vaccinates children and maintains a complete record of every child who is brought to the centre for vaccination. 

“Wednesday is the vaccination day in the centre,” she says. “We do all kinds of vaccinations, including BCG, pentavalent, polio and measles. Mothers know about this day. They fondly bring their children, and we happily vaccinate them, hoping that they will come again for the next dose.”

Twice a week, she goes to the two major hospitals in Quetta city, the Bolan Medical Complex Hospital and the Civil Hospital Quetta. She visits the children’s wards and tries to find out if any child admitted there has not been vaccinated against measles. When a child has missed out, she invites the parents to her vaccination centre. If they don’t show up, she will travel to their house to vaccinate the child.

Maximizing vaccine coverage

The increase in measles cases in Balochistan has incited health service providers to escalate their response. From vaccinators like Ms. Parveen to senior health managers in major hospitals, the providers are mobilizing to maximize vaccine coverage and treat children with measles on a priority basis.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan/2013/Zaidi
Vaccinator Kausar Parveen prepares to give a child a jab against measles at the Municipal Dispensary Vaccination Centre, Hussainabad. When children are not brought in for vaccination, Ms. Parveen will visit their homes to vaccinate them.

“Measles is quite common here,” says Head of the Paediatric Department, Civil Hospital Quetta, Dr. Bashir Kakar. “We are receiving measles cases even after vaccinating the children. If we do not stop it here, measles will spread very fast – and, because of it, [tuberculosis] will also spread among our children to a dangerous extent.

“We still have time and must wipe out measles before it kills any more of our children,” he concludes.

Reaching the hardest-to-reach children

Nayab, 4, lives on the outer periphery of Hussainabad. The terrain is hilly, and chances are that families like Nayab’s are not reached by mobile vaccination teams. Lack of awareness and social seclusion prevent families from taking their children to a vaccination centre.

In the recent outbreak of measles in Balochistan, a number of children brought to various medical facilities were those who had not been vaccinated against the disease. The most disadvantaged and marginalized communities – like Nayab’s – much be reached with vaccination services before measles reaches their children.


 

 

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