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Scale-up routine immunisation along with COVID-19 vaccination: WHO

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The World Health Organization has urged countries in South Asia Region to enhance routine immunization along with the ongoing efforts to rapidly increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage.

“The vulnerability to vaccine preventable diseases has increased with the pandemic disrupting essential immunization services and surveillance for vaccine preventable disease. Though efforts are being made, much more needs to be done specially at the sub-national levels and to reach the unreached and underserved population,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South Asia, at the Seventy-Fourth Regional Committee meeting.

Recalling the strong progress made until the onset of the pandemic, the Regional Director said, by 2019 the Region was in a historically best position related to vaccine preventable disease control with 91% coverage with three doses of DTP vaccine (DTP3). Ten of 11 countries had achieved more than 90% DTP3 coverage.

Though routine immunization services were among the first essential services that countries began to restore during the pandemic, the DTP3 coverage in the Region dipped to 85% in 2020. The number of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children increased to 4.9 million as against 3 million in 2019. Surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases was also affected.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted implementation of strategies for measles and rubella elimination, a flagship priority in the Region. The estimated coverage with the first dose of measles-containing vaccine (MCV1) in the Region declined to 88% in 2020 compared with 94% in 2019. Similarly, coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine declined to 78% in 2020 compared with 83% in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in surveillance gaps in several countries and has delayed implementation of mass vaccination campaigns and other immunization-related activities.

“There is an urgent need to repair the damage caused by COVID-19, to regain the momentum achieved in the previous decade, and to protect infants, young people and adults with life-saving vaccines,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

The ongoing Regional Committee meeting discussed the Strategic Framework for the South-East Asia Regional Vaccine Action Plan 2022−2030 which focuses on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination and restoration of immunization systems and vaccine-preventable disease surveillance from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need to ensure strategies are in place to maintain and enhance routine immunization without impacting the efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, the Regional Director said. Adequate human resources for routine immunization and COVID-19 vaccination, efforts to build confidence among people to access immunization services and having Standard Operating Procedures in place for enhancing immunization activities immediately following cessation of lockdown periods, are some of the critical measures that need to be taken, she said.

“Implementation of the framework will need high-level political and programmatic commitment and partner collaboration to which WHO is committed,” the Regional Director said.

Countries in the Region are making unprecedented efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccination coverage with over 915 million doses administered across the Region. The availability of more vaccine doses in recent weeks has helped scale up coverage.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Region has maintained its status of having eradicated polio and eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus. Measles elimination has been achieved and maintained in five countries, while two of these countries have also achieved rubella elimination. Four countries have been verified as having achieved hepatitis B control through immunization.

The Regional Committee meeting is the annual governing body meeting of WHO South Asia Region. Being hosted by Nepal, the meeting is being held virtually for the second consecutive year in view of the pandemic.



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Central Bank urged to save collapsing local industries

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The National Freedom Front (NFF) has requested the immediate intervention of the Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal to save micro, small and medium scale industries badly affected by the current economic downturn caused by the Covid-19.

The NFF parliamentary group comprises six members, including one National List.

Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, on behalf of the SLPP constituent parties, has warned of steep increase in unemployment, drop in the contribution made by small and medium scale industries to the national economy and the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor.

Party sources told The Island that the NFF had decided to take up the urgent matter because, in spite of repeated promises, those who had been severely affected were yet to receive assistance. Minister Weerawansa has urged the Central Bank to restructure loans obtained by affected industries and also extend the moratorium.

Weerawansa has in a letter dated Oct.18, told Cabraal that according to a survey conducted by the Industrial Development Board, micro, small and medium enterprises suffered serious setbacks. However, of the loans made available through the banking sector, a substantial segment had been disbursed among major players, the Minister said, while pointing out that in other countries in the region more than 50 percent of total loans were made available to micro, small and medium industries.

Unfortunately, here in Sri Lanka they received approximately 15 percent of the total given as loans, the minister said.

Minister Weerawansa said that though industries suffered, almost all state and private banks had recorded much improved performances with significant profits.

The Minister said that following his intervention with the cabinet of ministers, the government agreed on a plan of action to deal with the situation. It would be the responsibility of the Central Bank to implement the agreed proposals, he said.

(SF)

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So far no side effects among Pfizer vaccinated 15,000 A/L students

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Over 15,000 GCE AL students had been vaccinated with Pfizer and there had not been any side effects, Colombo District Director of Health Dr. Dilip Liyanage told the media yesterday.

He said that the Ministry of Education had given them a list of 20,688 that needed to be vaccinated.

“We would like to assure parents that there is no need to worry. Over 15,000 children have been vaccinated and there have been no problems so far. Trust the health professionals and vaccinate your child at the first opportunity you get,” he said.

Dr. Liyanage added that children who missed their chance to get vaccinated on weekdays, can get vaccinated at the MOH office near their home.

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Govt. approves prohibition of cattle slaughter

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The government has approved the prohibition of cattle slaughter. The decision was announced at the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Information Department yesterday (19). The government said the relevant laws and regulations, including those passed by Local Government authorities would be amended for that purpse.

The Legal Draftsman has drafted Bills to amend the following acts and ordinances.

• Authority 272 of the Cattle Slaughter Ordinance No. 9 of 1893

• Act No. 29 of 1958 Concerning Animals

• Municipal Councils Ordinance – Section 252

• Section 255 of the Municipal Councils Ordinance

• Ordinance No. 15 of the Urban Council Act of 1987

The Attorney General has certified that the said Bills do not clash with the provisions of the Constitution.

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