Efforts to increase the number of children who are vaccinated against infectious diseases such as polio and measles have been boosted by the launch of a new ankle band that changes colour to remind parents when their child’s next vaccine shot should be given.The band, announced by Pakistani researchers last week, is designed to alert parents when each round of vaccine is needed by sending “clear visual markers” over the first four months of a child’s life.
As part of its drive to improve vaccination rates, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set up a lottery system. Under the system, parents who get their children vaccinated are entered into a draw to win cash prizes, with text messages sent out reminding parents to continue their child’s vaccination schedule.
Vaccinations are used to immunise children against a host of infectious diseases including hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Many parents struggle to complete all three vaccination doses, which are needed to fully immunise children against diseases.
The WHO has said that more efforts are needed to help children complete vaccination regimes, pointing out that: “Despite major efforts to improve immunisation coverage … low uptake and delayed immunisations leave [Pakistani] children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Immunisations prevent about 2-3m deaths every year, according to WHO estimates. But about 21.8 million infants worldwide are still missing out on basic vaccines, the organisation has warned.
Sub-Saharan Africa showed the worst polio immunisation record of any region. In 2013, Central African Republic had the world’s lowest polio vaccination rate, with just 23% of children immunised against the disease according to the WHO.
Although nearly three in four Pakistani children are vaccinated against polio – putting the country on a par with India, Peru and Ukraine – some provinces have registered below 40% immunisation coverage, the WHO said. The Taliban, which has banned vaccinations and attacked medical workers, has been blamed for disrupting the country’s efforts to immunise children.
As a result, Pakistan accounted for nearly 90% of all polio cases reported in the last six months, according to the WHO.
“The lives of millions of children across Pakistan are at risk because of limited access to vaccines,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in February.
In recent months the Pakistani government has been forcing parents to vaccinate their children, raising hopes that more will be immunised. Last month, local authorities arrested hundreds of parents in the city of Peshawar after they refused to give their children polio vaccinations.
“This is the first time such drastic action was taken,” said Feroz Shah, a government spokesman. “This shows the determination of the government to eradicate polio.”
In January, officials targeted about 35 million children in a nationwide campaign, while smaller vaccination drives are held more frequently. Officials have also implemented new security strategies to help protect vaccinators.
Poor energy supply has made storing vaccinations difficult for many developing countries. Pakistan wasted about $3.7m (£2.5m) worth of vaccinations last month because they weren’t refrigerated properly at a government facility.
Noor Sabah Rakshani, one of the researchers behind the new ankle band, said it had led to improved completion rates in preliminarily trials after being shipped to Pakistan last year.
The band is timed to change colours after set periods, the researchers said. It was developed by Timestrip, a UK-based company, and Trust for Vaccines and Immunisation, and NGO, together with funding from the Gates Foundation. Timestrip’s founder, Reuben Isbitsky, said: “This project has allowed us to support the creation of a simple but life-saving product that could help millions of children who suffer through incomplete vaccination regimes.”
Published: 10 April 2015. By Mark Anderson
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