(This is a synopsis of a column originally written in Hindi by Alka Arya for the Dainik Jagran newspaper)
India has had a Universal Immunisation Programme (UPI) for 30 years now, yet only 65 percent of its children are fully vaccinated in their early years. Every year 5 lakh (500,000) children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. With a view to changing this, the government has launched a programme called “Mission Indradhanush” (Mission Rainbow) with the goal of bringing 90 percent of children within the net of immunisation by 2020. It is a tall order no doubt. Every year 27 million children are born in India and some 7 percent die before they reach five years of age. Under the UPI, which is one of the world’s largest such public health campaigns, vaccines are provided for protection from seven life-threatening diseases. Yet, 8.9 million children are either unimmunised or partially immunised. The government has acknowledged that in the past four years, the figure for full immunisation has grown by only one percentage point per year. This is very worrisome.
Why are there gaps in immunisation? A survey to figure this out reveals that many parents do not feel the need to get their children vaccinated, many do not have any idea about vaccination, many do not know where to go for vaccination and some have fears about side effects. The government will have to focus on the poor and marginalised, because their level of awareness about immunisation is very low. Extra efforts will have to be made to reach those living in far flung localities. India needs to show the determination and commitment demonstrated during its polio-eradication drive, if it wants to succeed in its drive for full immunisation.