New Delhi: Gorakhpur is one of the most vulnerable areas in Uttar Pradesh (UP) when it comes to deaths that could have been prevented by vaccination, a recent report by the Union health ministry shows.

“To ensure full immunization coverage, we conducted an extensive surveillance exercise last year across India to find out areas that lack proper immunization coverage and where deaths can be prevented by vaccines," said Pradeep Haldar, deputy commissioner, immunization division, ministry of health and family welfare.

“According to the surveillance report from Uttar Pradesh, Gorakhpur was found to have one of the lowest vaccine coverages. Immunization coverage in the state is anyway very low but some areas in Gorakhpur are in really bad situation," Haldar added.

Over the past week, around 85 children have died in Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical College Hospital in one of the worst public health crisis the state has seen.

According to the health ministry, Uttar Pradesh accounts for over 50% of the total deaths of children in India.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-16), only 51% children (12-23 months) in Uttar Pradesh get the BCG vaccine (for tuberculosis), measles, polio (3 doses) and DPT (diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough and tetanus). Only 52% get vaccinated for Hepatitis B.

The state government attributes many of the deaths of children at BRD Medical College to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES). According to the Union health ministry, the disease is endemic in the area and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been running a prevention programme in the state since 2005. Two doses of JE (Japanese Encephalitis) vaccine (first during 9-12 months and second during 16-24 months of age) are administered under the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP).

ICMR recently conducted surveys to estimate the coverage of the JE vaccine in Gorakhpur. A total of 840 children were surveyed, 210 from each district.

“The proportion of children receiving the second dose was low, with about 60% not receiving it. Nearly half of eligible children missed either the JE-1 or JE-2 vaccine during 2012-2013," said Soumya Swaminathan, secretary, department of health research, Union health ministry and director general of ICMR.

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