Pakistan is used to seeing various shortages going around in the country. Water, power and gas are some of the more prominent ones; and, no matter how much of a commotion is raised over these shortages, the government has failed to do anything to rectify the situation.
While these shortages are troublesome and grave in their own ways, it is more alarming when a country suddenly runs out of a vaccine that is given to children at birth to protect them against the deadly tuberculosis.
The life-saving BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine is something we have all been taking for granted for decades. However, since almost a month now, millions of infants in the country have been denied immunisation due to what healthcare officials are calling a ‘global shortage’.
The Federal Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) has not provided the vaccine to provinces in Pakistan for the month of February and it claims that it has not received the supply from Unicef due to a world-wide shortage.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has blamed the EPI for not procuring enough supply of the vaccine, which has in turn put millions of infants at risk.
The vaccine is on the World Health Organisation’s list of being the most important medication needed in a basic healthcare system.
And, what to say about Pakistan’s healthcare system? Always in the news for the wrong reasons, the country’s healthcare system is in a dire state, often running out of essential medicines and not being able to provide quality treatment to patients suffering from various diseases.
Be it the state of our hospitals or the provision of medications, the government appears to be the least attentive to this sector.
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Although Pakistan is in dire need of 6.5 million doses of the vaccine to meet the country-wide need, Unicef has stated that it cannot provide the supply before April 2015 due to delayed manufacturing.
The province of Sindh, however, is not facing such an emergency in this regard as it had procured enough supply from the EPI and also by purchasing enough medication through its own funds.
Punjab, on the other hand, is facing the worst shortage and is almost completely out of stock. Once again, perhaps the health ministry failed to take notice of the shortage situation which had been looming for a while.
It’s no wonder Pakistanis can’t take anything for granted anymore, not even basic immunisation. Pakistan and India were the first countries outside of Europe to start mass BCG immunisation in 1948.
Yet, Pakistan has the fifth-highest number of TB cases around the world. Pakistan is also still facing Polio cases, while most of the world has already wiped out the disease.
The provincial healthcare and EPI officials are blaming the federal EPI cell for not taking urgent action and for not preparing in advance for this situation.
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While the blame game and counter arguments will continue to make headlines, infants being born across the country will continue going home from the hospitals without the prominent BCG bump on their tiny arms — ones that could save their lives.
It is essential for the PMA to continue putting pressure on the EPI so that the supply of the vaccine can be resumed and millions of children can be saved from the potential dangers this situation has put them in.