A vaccination campaign kicked off in Vientiane yesterday aiming to immunise about 1.5 million children against Japanese encephalitis this month.

Deputy Prime Minister in charge of social and cultural affairs and Minister of Education and Sports, Dr Phankham Viphavanh, senior government officials and representatives of international organisations attended the launch of the vaccination drive at the National Culture Hall.
“Today’s ceremony is part of preparations to mark National Immunisation Day and our work to control Japanese encephalitis is the task and responsibility of the entire Party, government and people. We hope to reach 95 percent of the target group in every village and district in 10 mainly central and southern provinces as well as Vientiane,” Dr Phankham said.

Japanese encephalitis is a severe disease caused by the mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus. It was first discovered in Laos by Japanese scientists in the 1950s. The virus is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit it from domestic and wild pigs and wild birds to humans.

The disease is most prevalent in Southeast Asia and causes about 15,000 deaths every year, with 30,000 to 50,000 cases reported in 2005.

Minister of Health Prof. Dr Eksavang Vongvichit said the disease was most prevalent in the northern provinces of Laos, but has gradually spread to the central and southern regions.

He noted that the disease was especially dangerous for children under the age of 15. Some 30 percent of infected people died and 70 percent survived but often suffered brain damage or disability in other parts of their body.

Prof. Dr Eksavang said his ministry had partnered with the Ministry of Education and Sports and other sectors to vaccinate 564,000 people in the eight northern provinces in 2013 and 2014, and the disease had almost disappeared in that area.

The immunisation campaign has received vaccines and financial support from the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi).

“Immunisation remains one of best investments in public health, and I don’t think there is any other public health intervention that touches so many countries across the world,” Gavi Deputy CEO Ms Anuratdha Gupta said at the ceremony.

Also speaking at the event, World Health Organisation Representative Dr Juliet Fleischl said she was delighted to learn about the Lao government’s immunisation plan, which targets children aged 1 to 14.

In addition to Gavi, the programme receives technical support from WHO, UNICEF and the international health organisation PATH.

Laos has demonstrated to the global community how establishing Japanese encephalitis surveillance helps to better understand the burden and geographic extent of the disease, which could be used for planning effective control measures in the country, Dr Fleischl said.

UNICEF Representative Ms Hongwei Gao congratulated the government on its strong commitment to children through the organisation of the large-scale immunisation campaign and its decision to introduce the vaccine into the routine immunisation programme.

Prof. Dr Eksavang said 1,100 teams of health workers would administer the vaccines from April 20 to 30 at health centres, and mobile teams would vaccinate children in villages.

Source: Vientiane Times
Published on Apirl 01, 2015