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How Vaccination Promotes Good Health in Children

How immunisation and nutrition can impact the health of an entire population directly.

Partner Content

Updated:September 30, 2019, 12:13 PM IST
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How Vaccination Promotes Good Health in Children
How immunisation and nutrition can impact the health of an entire population directly.

Vaccination and child growth - you may never have thought they were connected, but they are. Malnutrition makes children more susceptible to illness and is also the outcome of repeated bouts of sickness. Immunisation, on the other hand, is the most cost-effective way to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable illnesses, averting an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year. It is the reason we inch ever closer to eradicating Polio, Measles (a massive cause of child fatality) and Neonatal tetanus. UNICEF reports that the rate of Measles has dropped by 80 per cent worldwide between 2000 and 2017. Yet, as of March 2019, there are still 13 countries working to rid themselves of Maternal and Neonatal tetanus, a disease with a fatality rate of 70 to 100 per cent among new-borns.

Across the world, the connection between deadly diseases and malnutrition is so clear that sometimes it is the yardstick by which to determine a country’s healthcare efforts. While global coverage rate for third doses of Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis vaccine (DTP3) in 2018 went up 20% since 1980, progress since then has slowed down.

The Challenge

There are many reasons why childhood illness, malnutrition and death still prevail. Conflict-affected areas, under-investment in immunisation programmes and betterment of living conditions are significant contributors. Children living in these fragile conditions and troubled places the most vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

Infectious diseases can take a significant toll on public health, especially when it comes to little children. Besides the apparent loss of nutrients due to vomiting and malabsorption, children also face the challenge of fighting off disease with a severely weakened system.

As recently as September 2019 - the village of Hoshiarpur in Punjab, India reported 119 suspected cases of Cholera, Diarrhoea and Dysentery including the alleged death of a five-year-old girl due to Cholera. Even these are only those that have been detected, diagnosed and reported - the actual figures could be worse.

Loss of appetite, lack of parental knowledge on how to deal with diarrhoea, malaise and dehydration correctly only makes things worse. High fevers caused by some infections demand more substantial portions of nutritious food and antibiotics. Meeting food needs in these cases is just as important as protection from the disease and a cure. In poor neighbourhoods, even good hygiene, sanitation and potable water is a challenge. But malnutrition is not confined to emerging countries, and deadly diseases don’t discriminate before attacking.

A Solution

There is a simple and relatively cost-effective solution. Vaccines for many deadly illnesses are available but ensuring that every child receives them, that’s the bigger hurdle. India’s integrated response via the National Immunisation Programme and the National Nutritional Supplementation Program is tackling numerous health issues as one giant army. Together with access to clean drinking water, better sanitation, and encouraging early vaccination and breastfeeding up to the first six months, kids today have a better chance of leading a healthy life.

Even before a child is born, the health of the foetus in unvaccinated mothers is at a significantly higher risk than those mothers who receive the necessary vaccines. A 1998 study conducted by UNICEF, showed that there were clear examples of vaccines putting an end to the spread of epidemics and thus improving the health of entire communities. Sure, naturally developing resistance to some illnesses may happen over time with the right supplements and vitamins. But the risk of unnecessary pain, disease and even death are far too high. Arming a child’s body to defend itself from deadly diseases is the most practical and cost-effective strategy for boosting overall health.

A 2012 study also suggests that Indian children who received vaccines for tetanus, pertussis, measles, polio, tuberculosis and diphtheria showed fewer signs of stunting - a significant marker for malnourishment.

Vaccines Provided Under India’s Universal Immunisation programme (UIP)

● BCG (for TB)

● DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus Toxoid)

● OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine)

● Measles

● Hepatitis B

● TT (Tetanus Toxoid)

● JE vaccination in selected districts.

● Hib, containing pentavalent vaccine (DPT+HepB+Hib) in selected states.

From the 0-5 years, the help and protection a child receives from proper nutrition and routine immunisation shouldn’t be discounted lightly. There is enough evidence to show that these interventions at this critical time in a little one’s life can be the difference between a sickly or healthy population later in life. The ability to lead a healthy, productive life is a fundamental human right, and it is our responsibility to give a child every opportunity to grow and flourish. Therefore, increase the reach of vaccines is as vital to a child’s health as providing them with the balanced nutrition they need to lead a healthy life.

This is a partnered post.

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