Brinda Karat, MP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member, has asked Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to look into the issue of shortage of vaccines in the country and take steps to procure them in adequate quantities to avert a “health disaster.”

In a letter to Mr. Azad that draws attention to an impending shortage of vaccines required for the universal immunisation programme, Ms. Karat said it was ironic that while national attention has been on the production of new vaccines for swine flu, with the private sector competing to capture the market, the more basic needs of crores of children for protection against diseases — some of which are life-threatening — are neglected.

Citing information provided by the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry in response to an RTI application, she said the crucial protection essential against diseases like diphtheria, measles and even tetanus was gravely undermined by shortages to the extent of 17 crore doses for 2009-10.

The situation, bad enough in 2008-2009 with an overall shortfall between requirement and procurement of around 14.5 per cent, deteriorated in 2009-10 to a shortfall of 22 per cent.

‘Undermining immunisation’

According to government statistics, the percentage of children covered through the universal immunisation programme has shown a steady increase.

“If the figures are correct and the projected requirements are also accurate, then the failure of the Ministry to procure adequate number of vaccines has to be explained and accountability fixed. If, on the other hand, there are adequate stocks with the Centre and State governments, the implications are that the figures of immunisation are false and exaggerated, and that since a fewer number of children are getting immunised, the requirement is less,” Ms. Karat said.

In either case, the central issue is the undermining of universal immunisation programmes and the serious consequences it has for crores of our children, infants and new born babies, she added.

“Short-sighted” policy

Ms. Karat also drew attention to the “short-sighted” policy of closing down vaccine producing public sector undertakings by the previous United Progressive Alliance government.

“After your assumption as Minister, you had given a categorical statement in Parliament which was appreciated across party lines, that the units will be reopened for production of vaccines. Regrettable this has not happened and dependence on private sector has grown,” she said.

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