It is World Immunization Week and the global health community can celebrate the fact that a large share of the world’s children no longer suffer illness and death due to vaccine preventable diseases. However, the families of Pakistan still suffer greatly; children in Pakistan are less likely to have benefitted from the cost-effective intervention of childhood vaccines than children in neighboring countries, and additionally than children in most of the rest of the world. 84% of children globally have been protected against measles and polio, but in Pakistan, far too many children still die of measles and suffer the effects of becoming ill from measles, and the nation remains one of only three countries endemic for polio. Full immunization coverage in Pakistan remains between 43 and 62% (depending upon the source of information), even though the Expanded Program on Immunization was established in Pakistan more than 35 years ago, and even though many partners have supported Pakistan’s efforts to increase coverage for many years.
The World Bank became engaged in Pakistan’s polio initiative in 2003, with an expectation that polio would soon be eliminated. After many years of collaboration, the results have not been as hoped, nor as the families of Pakistan deserve. So, how can this change? At the World Bank we are optimistic that it can, and we are working together with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Cooperation, each of the Provinces, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Gates Foundation and the GAVI Alliance to agree upon a joint program of support which aims to increase coverage and quality of services for immunization against vaccine preventable diseases for children under two. Now is the opportunity to make a difference. An effective program will demand efforts to (i) strengthen management, governance and stewardship functions (monitoring, evaluation and surveillance systems), (ii) improve service delivery performance (planning, human resources, supervisory systems, linkage to communities; (iii) demand generation (empowering and educating communities) and (iv) technical leadership. The joint program which is emerging will address exactly these issues.
This is an exciting opportunity, and the Government’s leadership in bringing these partners technical and financial resources together leads us to believe this is the moment in time when we can really make a difference. Over the next two years, we expect to see gains in immunization coverage, reductions in deaths and disability from vaccine preventable illness and to ensure that Pakistan’s children and families obtain the same benefits available to other children and families around the world.
Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population, South Asia