Infectious disease stirs alarm in Punjab
LAHORE, Dec 7: After deaths caused by a cough syrup and medicines for heart patients, an infectious disease has set alarm bells ringing in Punjab.
Six children, between three and 13 years of age, have died of diphtheria and 13 suffering from the infectious disease have been
admitted to government hospitals in the province.
Of the six, two children died in Lahore hospitals and one each in Layyah, Mianwali, Chakwal and Wazirabad.
A senior government official privy to the development told Dawn on the condition of anonymity that the deaths had occurred over the past two months but the provincial directorate-general of Health Services had initially hushed up the issue.
However, the issue came to the fore when the incidence of diphtheria cases continued to rise and 13 children were found under treatment at different government hospitals of the province, including four at the Children Hospital in Lahore.
Quoting the finding of a preliminary inquiry, the official said the dead and ailing children had either not been immunised or partially immunised as far as diphtheria was concerned.
Dr Javed Akram, former principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College, said diphtheria spread among babies through sneezing, coughing and laughing.
An official said teams had been sent to the hospitals to administer anti-diphtheria serum to the affected children to prevent more deaths.
He said the health department was facing an acute shortage of the serum and added: “We have a stock of vials of serum for 22 children only.”
He said the department was likely to face a severe crisis if more patients of diphtheria came to government hospitals.
According to an inquiry ordered by the DG of Health Services, 22 diphtheria-related cases were reported in 2011 and 48 in 2010 but the number of deaths owing to the disease over the two years could not be ascertained.
“Only two countries — India and France — produce anti-diphtheria serum and Pakistan buys this vital vaccine from the Serum Institute of India”, he said.
The serum was administered after a child was found suffering from the disease, he said. Its shelf life was only one year and the health department lacked capacity to store it which was a major factor behind its shortage,” he said.
The official said that diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT) vaccine was administered to babies during first year of their life and was part of the Extended Programme for Immunisation.
The appearance of diphtheria cases suggests that the health department may have missed a large number of children in DPT vaccination.