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Tuesday, Jun 11, 2002

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Hepatitis B vaccination for infants takes off

Our Bureau

The Minister for Health, Dr C.P Thakur, at the launch of a new initiative to vaccinate children against Hepatitis B in the Capital on Monday.

NEW DELHI, June 10

THE pilot project to provide Hepatitis B vaccination to about two million infants was kicked off in the Capital today by the Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee.

Dr C.P. Thakur, Union Health Minister, briefing presspersons after the event, said the Centre was extending about Rs 27 crore to this project, which would in turn be expanded in a phased manner during the Tenth Five Year Plan.

Meanwhile, he told Business Line that the Ministry had initiated work on the safe injection policy. The proposed policy is significant, since unsafe injection practices is one of the causes for Hepatitis B becoming widespread in the country.

Dr Thakur further pointed out that the pilot project would use auto-disposable (AD) syringes, which have an in-built mechanism to prevent re-use. The vaccination for Hepatitis B has taken off even as the immunisation programme for polio draws to a close. India would receive an assistance of $4.1 million over the next two years from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the Vaccine Fund.

The incidence of Hepatitis B was high, at about 5 million in the country, he said and added that there were pockets in which the incidence was greater. He cited Andaman and Nicobar islands as a case in point, with 33 per cent incidence.

Dr N.K. Ganguly, Director of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said that about five companies in the country manufactured the concerned medicines. Indigenous drugs were being tried out by ICMR at 10 of its centres, he added.

Dr Aggarwal, Director-General of Health Services, told Business Line that since the price of the medicines were high and there were a handful of companies producing the same in the country — the Ministry would go in for a tender process, with final supply being given to the company with the most competitive price.

Dr T. Walia, representative of the World Health Organisation, pointed out that disposal of the AD syringes was still an issue. Worldwide, the incidence of Hepatitis B was estimated at two billion, he said.

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