GUWAHATI, April 24 - Multi-lateral agency UNICEF today expressed hope that the immunisation programme resumes soon in a normal way in most districts of Assam, barring areas classified as �red and containment zones�.
�As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine. In many places, children are missing on critical vaccines due to recommendations and requirements around physical distancing and isolation, or due to reduced access to overstretched health services. These circumstances are putting children, especially the most vulnerable, at a risk of outbreaks of other diseases such as measles. Immunisation is vital now, more than ever,� said Dr Madhulika Jonathan, Chief of Field Office of UNICEF Assam.
She added, �But we must balance its critical importance with the fact that we are facing a very serious and deadly health crisis. And as part of that crisis, the government has been prioritising the most urgent needs first, including preventing further spread of COVID-19.�
UNICEF has advised parents to get children vaccinated as soon as the COVID-19 outbreak is brought under control and routine services resume.
While essential doses for institutional deliveries have continued uninterrupted in the State during the lockdown, Assam is among the few states that resumed routine immunisation last week at the sub-centre level. This has been done under strict guidelines of personal hygiene, physical distancing and mask usage.
�This World Immunisation Week, UNICEF hopes that the immunisation programme resumes in a normal way in most districts of Assam, barring areas classified as �red and containment zones�. There is intensive planning under way by the government to ensure �catch-up� vaccinations as soon as the restrictions are eased,� added Dr Jonathan.
According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16), less than half (47.1 per cent) of Assam�s children between 12-23 months are fully immunised, i.e., they have received BCG, measles and three doses each of polio and diphtheria (DPT). However, a huge disparity is seen when it comes to rural and urban areas in Assam, with coverage in rural areas standing at around 45 per cent and at around 71 per cent in urban areas.
�These are difficult times. Parents may feel overwhelmed with uncertainties and worries about COVID-19 and its impact. In these times, our message is that parents ensure children receive their routine immunisation while following national and state guidance on preventive measures, including physical distancing, hand washing and proper coughing and sneezing hygiene,� said Dr Jonathan.
According to UNICEF, immunisation is one of the most effective public health interventions.
�The COVID-19 outbreak reveals what is at stake when communities do not have the protective shield of immunisation against an infectious disease. No vaccine exists yet for COVID-19. However, there are effective and safe vaccines for other serious and highly contagious diseases like measles. Along with taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there is need to ensure that Assam�s children are up-to-date with their vaccination schedule,� said Dr Jonathan.
She added that for this there is need to ensure investment in health workers and their protection from the infection as they are the first in line of defence against this global epidemic.
UNICEF has supported the National Health Mission, Department of Health, Government of Assam, with training of 45,000 ASHA and ANM workers on the COVID-19 outbreak. The training covered issues around safe practices, community surveillance, home quarantine, using a mask, facts and myths, among other aspects.
UNICEF works on-ground closely with partners including the Government of Assam, other UN agencies and civil society organisations, to ensure availability of vaccines and their access to children, especially the most vulnerable.
�UNICEF has been consistently providing technical support towards systems strengthening through the expansion and operationalisation of cold chain points, and supportive supervision of village health nutrition days (VHND) sessions to ensure quality of services. UNICEF also supports training and on-site capacity building of health care personnel,� said Dr Jonathan.