NEW DEHLI — Using World Health Day on Tuesday, April 7, to capture international attention, India launched its immunization campaign, “Mission Indradhanush,” an inoculation effort geared toward protecting 90 percent of India’s children by 2020 against seven preventable diseases.
As the program gets under way, 201 at-risk districts in India will be targeted, with a focus on areas with the largest numbers of under-vaccinated children.
The initiative will provide vaccinations against diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, measles and Hepatitis B. On a case-by-case basis, vaccines will also be administered against Japanese Encephalitis, a mosquito-carried virus that can cause damage to the brain and Haemophilus influenza Type B.
Health Minister of India, J.P. Nadda, has spoken of ensuring that the effectiveness of the program is carefully overseen.
“I am greatly encouraged by the response from MPs … Massive framework put in place to monitor effective implementation of Mission Indradhanush,” Nadda said.
While India provides free immunizations through its national public health system, the vaccination rate of children between one and two years of age is only at 44 percent. This rate dips even lower in rural districts.
Nadda has said that between 2009 and 2013, the vaccination rate increased from 61 to 65 percent, meaning only a one percent change every year, an increase insufficient to develop a healthy society.
The benefits of vaccines are vast. The World Health Organization says vaccinations save millions of lives every year, and with the added benefit of immunizations being a low-cost mode of protecting populations, there’s every reason to get behind the initiative.
There are statistics that are promising as well. While the rates of vaccinations are low, the efforts that have been in place thus far have been successful. In 1980, there were 39,000 reported cases of diptheria, a number that dropped to 3,100 cases in 2013. Measles has seen a decrease as well, dropping from 114,000 to 13,800 cases in the past 35 years.
After looking at these statistics, and the low rates of vaccinations, it was decided that a program to fast track results was in order, and thus India’s immunization campaign emerged. Such an initiative will have results not just on the health of those living in India, but also on the impoverished status of the country.
The UN reported in 2014 that a third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India. Infectious diseases do not help this dire situation.
An important goal of the vaccination initiative is to ensure herd immunity, which means that enough people would be vaccinated to prevent possible large-scale outbreaks. Health experts agree that to achieve that, between 90 and 95 percent of the population should be vaccinated. An outbreak of an infectious disease in an impoverished area can be detrimental, as the infrastructure is often not in place to combat such a situation, and the results can lead to more poverty.
In the midst of the many global health issues that are challenging to tackle, preventable diseases present the international community with a problem that has an answer, which is often vaccination. India’s immunization campaign has the potential to lay the groundwork for huge strides away from poverty, and even bigger strides toward a healthier country.
– Maggie Wagner