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Immunising 30 million Pakistani children against measles

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - 14 November 2018: As the month of October came to an end, more than 30 million Pakistani children were finally safe from measles in the wake of a massive, two-week long vaccination campaign.

The campaign, which was extended for three days in some provinces, exceeded the initial target of reaching 95 percent of children between nine months and five years old (seven years old in Punjab, the most populous province) in some provinces. In the end, well over 90 percent of children were reached under the leadership of Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Health Services and of provincial authorities, together with UNICEF and the World Health Organisation.

The campaign ensured population immunity against the measles as more than 30,000 cases have been reported in Pakistan in 2018. Measles, a deadly virus which attacks the respiratory tract and is exceptionally contagious, remains a leading cause of death among the world’s children, with survivors often left with life-long disabilities such as blindness, deafness or brain damage.


A Hazara child minutes after he was immunized in Quetta. © UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi

The campaign ensured population immunity against the measles as more than 30,000 cases have been reported in Pakistan in 2018. Measles, a deadly virus which attacks the respiratory tract and is exceptionally contagious, remains a leading cause of death among the world’s children, with survivors often left with life-long disabilities such as blindness, deafness or brain damage.

“More than 250,000 health workers and social mobilizers were mobilised to ensure that no one would be left behind,” said Dr. Kennedy Ongwae, UNICEF Chief of Health in Pakistan. “Every child received the vaccine thanks to the exceptional efforts of medical workers operating in fixed sites, but also in outreach or mobile teams.” 

The campaign was designed to include hard-to-reach children such as those from religious minorities or nomad tribes, and those living in urban slums as well as remote rural villages.


Frontline workers in Balochistan. © UNICEF/Pakistan/2018

Ahead of the campaign, social mobilizers and community health workers spent weeks building trust about the vaccine in dense urban areas like in scattered rural settings, from the northwestern mountains to the southern coastline.

Lady health workers climbed the tall hills of Quetta several times a day to reach Hazara children. Social mobilizers drove auto rickshaws along cramped back alleys in the slums of the coastal city of Karachi, calling on families to bring their children to the vaccination centers with loudspeakers. Frontline workers rode camels decorated with information banners across the arid, desert plains of Balochistan. UNICEF field workers went door to door in the streets of Lahore and other cities to try and convince the parents who initially refused to immunize their children.

All worked relentlessly to make sure that no child would be missed, not even those on the move. In Quetta, three-year-old Raj received the measles shot hours before boarding a truck and travelling with her Hindu nomad family to another province, Sindh, where winters are warmer.


Lady Health workers go door to door up the hills of Quetta. © UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi

Breaking down silos
"This successful campaign shows us what we can collectively achieve when silos are broken down and we work as One UNICEF,” commented Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan.

Although the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) and the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) are separate entities, both worked hand in hand on efforts to immunize Pakistani children across measles. The polio programme lended its human resources, knowledge and expertise to help achieve the highest possible immunization coverage against measles.

“Reaching up to 98 percent of children in some provinces was only possible thanks to great team work between several programme sections, the Operations team and four Field offices,” Girma said.


Three-year-old Raj received the measles shot hours before boarding a truck and travelling with her Hindu nomad family to another province. © UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi

“It relied on a strong collaboration between our EPI and Polio programmes; our strong partnership with the Government, UN agencies and development partners such as GAVI; the community workers who left no stone unturned to try and reach every child; and the millions of beautiful children who were vaccinated.”

The USD $ 34 million mass immunisation campaign was funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the government of Pakistan. It will contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3, which aims to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age by 2030.


UNICEF field workers went door to door to speak to the rare families who were reluctant to immunize their children. © UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi

 

 
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