Around 40 children have died recently across Pakistan due to diphtheria, as the vaccine was not available to prevent the outbreak. Though diphtheria is part of Pakistan’s routine immunization programme, these deaths show a certain degree of failure. Now the WHO and Unicef have committed to provide anti-diphtheria serum to counter a recent surge in the deadly infectious disease. Like polio, diphtheria is also an infectious disease that most countries of the world have been able to wipe out from their land. It is a vaccine-preventable disease and mostly targets children and teenagers. The authorities in Pakistan are well-aware of the seriousness of this threat and should have paid more serious attention to make arrangements for a blanket coverage of their immunization campaign. Though there have been claims of an increase in routine immunization rates in the country, the reality shows something different.
Timely provision of the serum is a vital responsibility of the government to immunization teams. Health authorities in the country should have initiated the process of procurement much earlier so that at the time of immunization campaigns and through regular vaccinations of the children, the medicine is available in sufficient quantities. The arrangement for the vaccine comes primarily under the government’s domain and when it gets help from the Unicef and WHO, it facilitates the process. According to reports, pentavalent vaccine and anti-diphtheria serum both are out of stock due to which basic health units where regular immunization of children and newborns takes place have been lacking in their services to the local families. Since diphtheria is no more a world problem, its vaccine production has also been curtailed the world over.
Pakistan needs to look for opportunities to produce this vaccine locally but lately we have seen multinational pharmaceutical companies opting to wind up business in Pakistan. This is not a good sign for a country of 230 million people who need regular medicines and vaccinations. With nearly two per cent population growth rate annually, Pakistan adds at least four million babies a year. All these newborns are in need of regular vaccination including that of diphtheria. A disease that has been eradicated in most countries around the world has lingered on in Pakistan and it is not an enviable situation for the country and its health authorities. Keeping in view the fact that diphtheria is a lethal bacterial infection, there should not be any compromise in its vaccination to all children. It is a vaccine preventable disease but still in all provinces of the country there are dozens of cases reported every week. For this negligence both the federal and provincial governments are responsible. There is a need for an overhaul of the immunization programme so that it can reach every child and teenager in the country.