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Pakistan - Diphtheria cases on the rise in K-P
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Despite the disease spreading to multiple districts, vaccines for it are not readily available at public hospitals.Despite the rise in cases of diphtheria across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), victims of the disease are having a hard time finding anti-diphtheria serum in public hospitals across the province and thus have to splurge heavily to buy it from the market.The vaccine-preventable yet acute and highly contagious bacterial disease, usually starts with a sore throat and fever and often results in breathing difficulties, heart rhythm problems, and in rare cases leads to death.According to the K-P Health Department, there are presently 259 suspected cases across the province and as many as 80 per cent of the patients are young children, which means that their vaccination does not fall under the expanded programme of immunisation of the provincial health department.Consequently, they are compelled to purchase the costly anti-diphtheria serum themselves.Commenting on the predicament of the patients, Professor Dr Gohar Rehman, President of the Pakistan Pediatric Association, said that it was quite unfortunate that other Asian countries like neighbouring India not only had access to the vaccine but were capable of making it themselves “whereas, Pakistan is always short on the vaccine.”“Our neighbour, India, is now moving towards eradicating diseases and exporting their vaccines to the world. On the other hand we are just sitting around and wasting time,” remarked Dr Rehman, further adding that the plight of the country's vaccination programmes was such that no donor organisation trusted those in charge in the country due to past allegations of corruption.Given the lack of easy access to the anti-diphtheria serum, the disease has now spread to 28 out of 37 districts of the province. Peshawar District has the most cases, at 68, and experts feel that if the vaccine is not made readily available then the district would experience an outbreak.In this regard, Professor Dr Muhammad Hussain, neonatologist and expert on vaccinations, said it was quite perplexing that the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) just carried an 18-month course of vaccination and hence left out other age groups from being covered by the programme.“We have recommended multiple times to the provincial health department that the vaccination programme should be expanded to cover those within the age bracket of 5 to 16 year olds,” the neonatologist informed.However, due to the disregard for suggestions to expand the programme precious lives have been lost, according to Dr Hussain.“The provincial health department should now ensure that there is no outbreak and the anti-diphtheria serum is made available to all districts of the province,” he added.Nevertheless, the EPI’s Director Muhammad Arif Khan, feels that talks of an outbreak are baseless. “While there has been an increase in cases of diphtheria across the province, the situation is still under our control,” asserted Khan.“The districts which require the vaccine are being provided it, so there is no question of shortage either. Despite the vaccine being pricey we are providing it to those who need it for free,” he added while talking to the Express Tribune.