Pentavalent vaccine seems to be the answer to the high infant mortality rates in India. India is among the top four countries that account for half of the global under-five child mortality. Assam is among the low Routine Immunization (RI) states in India. Apart from Assam, UP, MP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha are among the states where immunization is below the national average. Every year about 1.4 million children below the age of five years die in India from largely vaccine preventable diseases like pneumonia, measles and new-born complication like sepsis.
The Pentavalent vaccine is a conjugate vaccine which combines antigens against five infections – diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Hib – in a shot. The vaccine was rolled out as part of introducing a vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) infection – a major cause of meningitis and pneumonia deaths in children – in the national immunisation schedule for infants.
The vaccine was introduced in Patna at a regional media workshop on Routine Immunisation which was held in Patna, the capital of Bihar from September 24 to 25, 2014 by UNICEF and Samyak Foundation. The pentavalent FAQ booklet containing key information on the new vaccine was launched at the workshop. “Death of a child India affects the health of the entire family, especially the mother. The mother usually does not live long,” said Ramdhani Singh, health minister, Bihar at the inaugural function of the workshop.
Dr. Panna Choudhury, Executive Director of Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) & Vice President, Child Health Foundation said, “Pentavalent vaccines is safe and has been in use for the more than 20 years in the developed countries. India, now has a new, more affordable and indigenous vaccine which can help in the consistent decline in the under-five mortality in India.”
The workshop was organized in a bid to engage the media in reaching out to the community on promoting Routine Immunisation. It has been observed that the general trend of media reportage of RI in the country has been so far confined to state government announcements; spot coverage of events; and response of the general public to special immunization rounds.
Media has always helped in engaging the community for public health interventions and therefore its strengths can be leveraged for promoting Routine Immunisation. Accurate, comprehensive and timely news reports in the media have the potential to inform, educate and empower people to develop health seeking behaviour. Rahul Dev, senior journalist and founder of Samyak said, “Just as breast feeding is coming down, similarly, RI is also coming down. It would be a good idea to call it Essential Immunisation instead RI. And media has a huge role to play to spread the message of RI in a powerful manner.”
Nipurnh Gupta, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Bihar added, “A lot of misinformation has also been carried which has affected the immunization process. The trend can only be reversed by sensitizing media persons and by building their capacities by giving them the required knowledge and a broad understanding of vaccines, the diseases that they prevent, immunization processes, including their medical and technical aspects in a holistic and correct perspective.”
S N Pandeya, programme manager, UNICEF said, “In 1999-2000, RI in Bihar was 11 percent. Now it has gone upto 70 percent. The success can be attributed to the commitment of the state government and its many development partners.” Bihar has witnessed good communication plan, regular supervision and media had played a big role in this. The polio campaign was successful because of the effective communication in the ground. The introduction of the new Pentavalent vaccine will help in the process of RI,” he added.
A battle to on to save the children, but like most wars, its scale and costs are huge. A highly cost-effective way of preventing these fatal diseases is immunization. Neena Jha, a government official from Bihar said, “Media is the hidden stakeholder in all our success. They can help us in policy making and enlighten the society. Our government is moving at a very fast pace.”
Immunisation is the oldest and the largest public health programme in the world. It was initiated in 1978 as per a National Immunisation Schedule. The main problem is with the drop-outs and left-outs and the reasons for non-immunisation are ignorance, wrong advice, fear of side-effects and migration from one place to another. Dr Ghanashyam Shetty, Health specialist, UNICEF said, “If an ANM nurse is skilled enough to resuscitate a child, immunization will be a very easy task for them.”
Sonia Sarkar of UNICEF said, “Media has a huge role to play, especially innovative radio programmes. They can relay programmes which tug at heart strings.” She spoke about UNICEF India’s initiative to promote immunization on radio in partnership with the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI). A workshop for radio professionals was organised earlier this month to sensitise them about the importance of immunization and equip them with relevant information for programme innovations. Over 40 radio jockeys and national programming heads of private FM radio stations took part in the workshop.
Speaking on the occasion, Yameen Mazumdar of UNICEF said, “RI is the most cost-effective public health intervention programme. This year marks the year for child rights. Every child has a right o survival. Immunisation programmes are vital in terms of the child survival agenda. Media canmotivate and educate the caregivers through accurate reporting. Ignorance and myths are the challenges faced at the community level and media has a huge role to play.
There is still a long way to go as full routine immunization coverage is only 61 percent at the national level. There are geographical, regional, socio-economic inequities in immunization coverage between the states and also within the states. The need to create a cadre of committed health journalists was felt in the workshop. Journalists were also taken on a field visit where they were given a first-hand experience on the RI programme at the grassroots level. The two-day residential workshop provided indepth and up-to-date technical and medical knowledge about all aspects of immunization. Efforts will be made to create a network of knowledgeable and committed pool of health journalists who will report on these issues on a sustained basis. More such media workshops should be organised in low RI states, specially in Northeast India.