ANDHRA PRADESH

Vaccination drive to cover entire State

Hyderabad Nov. 13. The Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation-sponsored vaccination programme for children will be expanded to the entire State on November 14, Children's Day, with the addition of 10 more districts to the drive. Free administration of Hepatitis B vaccine is being added to the six vaccinations already covered by it.

The Gates' Foundation is contributing $ 12.5 million to this project through the NGO `PATH' and the State Government is picking up a bill of Rs. 18.67 crores.

Addressing a press conference announcing the expansion, the Commissioner, Family Welfare, Neelam Sawhney, said that the renewed focus on vaccination had resulted in increase in the number of immunisations. Andhra Pradesh had 72 per cent of its children fully immunised at present, compared to 58 per cent in 1998. For some vaccines like DPT and polio, coverage was over 90 per cent, she said, but added that vaccines like measles were lagging behind. There was also a serious problem with `drop-out' cases increasing to almost 33 per cent in certain cases.

She said that the present phase of the immunisation programme aimed at plugging these deficiencies by concentrating on strengthening logistics and delivery systems as well as modernising the cold chain. The programme was also moving to develop a completely computerised name registry which would make it easier to keep tabs on each and every child.

Ms. Sawhney expressed serious concern at the re-emergence of polio cases in the State after a gap of three and a half years. What was of greater concern was 11 out of the 13 children who have got this virus had been fully vaccinated under the pulse polio programme. She blamed poor nutrition for causing the `immunity gap' which had decreased to seven per cent in the State from a high of 25 per cent in the recent past.

She said that the efficacy of polio vaccine was about 85 per cent and this reduced with low nutrition.

The danger of polio re-emergence remained as long as the country was not completely `flushed' of this virus, she said, while disagreeing that it was a failure of the Government's vaccination programme.

James Cheyne, Associate Director of the programme at PATH, and other officials also addressed the press conference.