ISLAMABAD - Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar on Tuesday said that the government would soon start a vaccination drive against pneumonia in the federal capital.

Addressing a press conference here, the minister said that each year 50,000 children die of pneumonia in Pakistan, which is an alarming situation and needs an urgent coordinated effort of all segments of society. She said that each year millions of children in developing countries die before their fifth birthday of preventable diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhea and measles. She said immunization is considered to be one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions that prevents between two and three million deaths every year by protecting against the nine deadly diseases of the childhood including pneumonia under five years of age.

She said that in October 2012, Pakistan introduced pneumococcal vaccine to protect Pakistani children from pneumonia - a disease that takes the lives of approximately 1.3 million children globally before their fifth birthday. With this launch, Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine. She further said that despite significant efforts by the government and its partners, Pakistan's immunization indicators are yet to reach the expected benchmarks for saving children against dreadful diseases, which are preventable by vaccines.

Unfortunately parents in Pakistan still do not view immunization as a right of their own children resulting in poor utilization of immunization services made available by the government.

"We therefore, continue to observe outbreaks of measles, pertussis and diphtheria in different parts of the country," she said adding vaccination is not a privilege but the right of each and every child to a healthy and dignified life.

The 2010 World Health Assembly had passed a resolution on the prevention and control of childhood pneumonia. The resolution stated that leaders in each country should implement comprehensive plans to reduce pneumonia deaths. This effort will support United Nations Millennium Development Goal 4, which states that childhood mortality should be reduced by two thirds from 1990 to 2015. However, even now, globally an estimated 22 million infants are not fully immunized with routine vaccines, she added.

It is also an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrate the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities, she added.