Pakistan rolled out a massive two-week drive Monday to immunize more than 90 million children in what officials hailed as one of the world’s biggest vaccination campaigns against measles and rubella.

An official announcement said children aged between 9 months and 15 years across the country will be inoculated against the contagious viral infections.

The Pakistani government has mobilized more than 600,000 health professionals, vaccinators and social mobilizers for the campaign with the support of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization.

“Measles and rubella are contagious diseases and can have severe complications for children even death,” said Dr. Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the Pakistani prime minister on health.

“I urge both the front-line workers to work with dedication and the caregivers to express their support by vaccinating their children against the diseases,” Sultan added.

Officials said Pakistan has experienced an alarming rise in measles cases in recent years, affecting thousands of children and claiming many young lives.

“The measles and rubella campaign will move us not only one step closer to maintaining measles elimination and accelerating rubella control, but also one step closer to reducing the overall child mortality across Pakistan,” said WHO Country Representative Palitha Mahipala.

UNICEF said children under the age of five will also receive polio drops during the campaign to support Pakistan’s eradication efforts against the crippling disease. 

“Today’s world is still grappling with the very contagious measles and rubella viruses, none of which have gone away despite being entirely preventable with a simple vaccine,” said UNICEF Country Representative Aida Girma in remarks during the launch of the vaccination campaign in Pakistan.

The WHO says more than 140,000 people died from measles in 2018 worldwide – mostly children under the age of 5 years, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air.

WHO experts say there is no specific treatment for rubella but the disease is preventable by vaccination.

The rubella virus is transmitted by airborne droplets when infected people sneeze or cough. Humans are the only known host. 

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