‘We have to reach the most remote children in a very limited time’

In this interview to The Indian Express, Union Health Minister J P Nadda speaks about the challenges involved in the programme and explains how the government hopes to sustain a coverage rate of 90-95%

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Updated: January 7, 2018 12:13:33 am
‘We have to reach the most remote children in a very limited time’ Union Health Minister J P Nadda

What was the idea behind Mission Indradhanush?

Vaccination is one of the surest methods of ensuring healthy children and eventually a healthy nation… As per the direction of the Prime Minister, the goal of Mission Indradhanush is to increase the immunisation coverage to 90 per cent by December 2018. This can be achieved only when we reach out to those children who are left out of immunisation sessions… This fits in perfectly with the NDA’s goal of serving Antodaya.

What were the challenges?

The first two phases of Mission Indradhanush had led to an increase in immunisation coverage by 6.7 per cent. Our experiences indicate that micro-planning needs to be strengthened so that all children and pregnant women, especially those in far-flung areas and high-risk habitations, are covered.

The biggest challenge is the deadline we have set for ourselves, of bringing down the target date from 2020 to December 2018. This means we have to reach out to the most remote children and populations in a very limited time. A major barrier in achieving this target is that the child is healthy (at the time of vaccination) so people do not perceive the benefits from immunisation. Besides, some people do not get their children vaccinated because of (a few) minor adverse events such as transient fever, pain etc that follows immunisation. We also have to encounter resistance from certain communities arising out of myths related to immunisation.

Are there fears that focus on MI will put routine immunisation on the backburner?

Mission Indradhanush (MI) is a strategy to strengthen Routine Immunisation (RI) so by that basic principle, there is no possibility of MI pushing RI to the backburner. In fact, MI has led to capacity building of health manpower for providing quality immunisation services. Massive campaigns have been carried out for MI which have led to increased awareness on immunisation. Most importantly, MI in areas which were previously left out of RI has led to these areas being integrated into RI microplans, thus taking our immunisation services closer to the people than ever before.

What is the target date for achieving 100% immunisation?

Achieving 100 per cent immunisation coverage requires continuous, sustained eradication efforts because a new cohort of children who have to be immunised are added continuously. Since a small proportion of children may not be covered despite best possible efforts due to reasons like travelling, suffering from certain conditions that contraindicates vaccination, resistance etc. Hence, there is no target date for achieving 100 per cent coverage, we aim to sustain the immunisation coverage across the country at 90-95 per cent.

Are there plans to expand the Universal Immunisation Programme basket?

We are committed to protecting our children from preventable diseases. We have a national advisory body, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which comprises of public health experts from across the country. This body regularly reviews evidence on burden of vaccine-preventable diseases and cost-effectiveness and efficacy of available vaccines. Any decision on new vaccine introduction will be taken based on NTAGI’s recommendation.

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