An expert committee has been appointed to study the proposal for use of pentavalent vaccine under the Health Department’s immunization programme, Health Minister Adoor Prakash said here on Tuesday.

Replying to questions at a press conference, the Minister said that a decision on the use of the vaccine would be taken only after receipt of the report of the committee. The committee was appointed after concerns were expressed about the use of the vaccine. Private hospitals were already using the vaccine.

Mr. Prakash said that the Health Department had launched a month-long campaign from October 10 to bridge the gap in the coverage of the universal immunisation programme. While many children were not given vaccination in some areas, in other cases schedules were not being followed.

Vaccination rates were the lowest in districts such as Palakkad, Wayanad, Malappuram and Kozhikode. This had resulted in re-emergence of diseases such as chicken pox and diphtheria. Nine children died last year of diphtheria and one from chicken pox. The deaths often occurred because of late treatment or malnutrition.

Asked whether this pointed to an inadequacy of programmes such as Integrated Child Development Scheme, the Minister said the Health Department would be coordinating with the Social Welfare and Education departments in this regard. Reports about higher incidence of child deaths at the SAT Hospital here would be enquired into.

Mr. Prakash said though he personally favoured private practice by government doctors, the government had not issued any orders lifting the ban on private practice. The recent directive of the Principal Secretary (Health) Rajiv Sadanandan directing stringent action against doctors breaking the ban was issued in view of the current government policy.

He said that the government would soon convene a conference of drug manufacturers and others to discuss the price line of essential drugs. The government had appointed a committee to identify essential drugs and it had submitted its report. The government would be unrelenting in its resolve to ensure fair prices. “Give us time. We will ensure lower prices this year itself,” he added.

The Minister said that the objections of the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association about the proposed Public Health Bill would be discussed with them. The government proposed to introduce the Bill after consultations with all concerned.

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