Special Correspondent

Vaccination campaign being carried out with the help of PATH

Nine million have so far been vaccinatedJE virus transmitted by infected mosquitoesVaccine at public sector price

NEW DELHI: With the monsoon season underway, the Government has taken up a comprehensive campaign to vaccinate 11 million children against Japanese encephalitis (JE), a viral infection that claimed more than 1,800 lives last year. Approximately nine million children have so far been vaccinated, according to PATH, an international non-profit organisation.

The campaign through the end of August will immunise 11 million children as the first part of a five-year, phased approach. It has been designed to protect children before the peak of the transmission season. Children in the highest-risk areas in more than 11 endemic districts will be protected.

The campaign has just been completed in West Bengal, with partnership among the district administration, the State and Central Governments, and international agencies such as PATH, WHO and UNICEF.

Transmitted by infected mosquitoes, the infection kills more than 10,000 children in Asia and the Pacific every year and leaves one-third of its survivors with permanent neurological damage. Traditional measures to control mosquito populations have previously been unsuccessful in combating the spread of the disease. The mosquitoes that transmit the infection breed in paddy fields and standing water. Birds and pigs are hosts to the virus, which invades the central nervous system, damaging the brain and spinal cord. Immunisation is the most effective preventive measure.

Immunisation in India was inspired by a pilot programme initiated by the Andhra Pradesh Government in collaboration with PATH, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The partnership helped introduce JE vaccine to high-risk districts in the State in 2001. Since then, PATH's JE project has expanded the work, providing technical assistance to help the Centre develop its preventive strategy. PATH spearheaded negotiations with the vaccine's main manufacturer, the Chengdu Institute of Biological Products, based in China, to provide it at an affordable price for low-income countries. PATH and the Chengdu Institute have signed a commitment to provide vaccine at the public sector price in low-income endemic countries in Asia for the next 20 years. The price is allowing India to begin vaccination on a large scale.