Geneva, 12 November 2021 – Today Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, launched a nationwide campaign to vaccinate more than 90 million children against the deadly measles and rubella viruses across Pakistan, in what is bound to become one of the biggest campaigns in the world, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 386,000 health professionals, including 76,000 vaccinators and more than 143,000 social mobilizers, are mobilised for the two-week campaign, which is supported by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, WHO and partners. The initiative targets children aged between 9 months and 15 years; those aged up to five will also receive the oral polio vaccine.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to protect children’s lives through immunisation, Pakistan is proud to launch one of the largest measles rubella campaigns in the world, which will target millions of children. I would like to thank our partners Gavi, UNICEF and WHO for their support and to encourage families across the country to take advantage of this opportunity to get their children vaccinated at no cost,” said Dr Faisal Sultan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health.
The campaign will be conducted in public and private health facilities, outreach centres as well as educational facilities, for 12 days from 15th November to 27th November. Nearly half of the children who are to be immunised are enrolled in schools.
“Congratulations to the Government of Pakistan on this historic national campaign, which will ensure children continue to be protected against these deadly diseases despite the pandemic,” said Ms Anuradha Gupta, Gavi Deputy CEO. “Measles is a highly contagious disease, claiming one life every four minutes, and every year 100,000 children are born with malformations and disabilities caused by rubella. This landmark campaign and steadfast commitment to maintaining routine immunisation services will help protect millions of lives,” she added.
The campaign is timely, as more than 17,000 suspected measles and rubella cases were reported in Pakistan in 2021, which is double the reported cases in all of 2020.This marks a sharp increase in reported cases and has resulted in an increase in measles outbreaks; 70 districts in the country reported outbreaks and 51 children have died from complications from the outbreaks so far. An increase in Congenital rubella syndrome cases was also recorded in 2020 and 2021 – 70% of children affected suffer from congenital heart disease, and 30% from congenital cataract.
The measles virus remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally. It is one of the world's most contagious human viruses, but it can be almost entirely prevented through vaccination. The rubella virus, considered the most common cause of preventable congenital birth defects, can also be prevented through vaccination.
“The Measles and Rubella campaign will move us not only one step closer to maintaining measles elimination and accelerating rubella control, but also one step closer to reducing the overall child mortality across Pakistan. Every child has the right to access life-saving healthcare,” said Dr Palitha Mahipala, WHO Representative in Pakistan. “WHO is partnering with the Government of Pakistan and supports to ensure that all children get vaccinated against Measles & Rubella. The nationwide campaign will help to stop the current measles outbreak; WHO appreciates the strong political commitment of the Government of Pakistan towards the measles elimination for the benefit of all children in Pakistan.”
“Today’s world is still grappling with the very contagious measles and rubella viruses, none of which have gone away despite being entirely preventable with a simple vaccine,” said Ms Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan. “UNICEF is proud to support the Government and front-line workers to ensure that safe, effective vaccines are available and delivered nationwide and can reach every child, including those living in the most vulnerable communities. We are also supporting efforts to help parents and communities understand the life-saving benefits of the vaccine. By working together, we can contribute towards the global eradication of measles and rubella, to the benefit of every child in Pakistan and across the world.”
Measles outbreaks occur when people who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates must reach 95% – the target of the campaign. Since 2000, measles vaccination is estimated to have saved more than 23 million lives globally.
Pakistan has demonstrated consistent political as well as administrative commitment towards strengthening and restoring immunisation services across the country over the past years, with promising results. Targeting ‘zero-dose’ children, many born during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a priority to help ensure that vaccination is equitable for every child.