Nepal Government, with support from various international non-governmental organizations, officially launched rota virus vaccine as well as hygiene promotion in its annual routine immunization program across the country on July 2.

The launch ceremony was held in presence of Minister for Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal as the chief guest, dignitaries from the ministry, and representatives of supporting organizations such as UNICEF, WHO and WaterAid.

Provincial Social Development Ministers, Provincial and District health Authorities attended the event virtually keeping in mind the Covid-19 pandemic.

The drive this year also includes administration of oral vaccine against rota virus to children under two years of age at six and 10 weeks with the objective to prevent child mortality rate induced by severe diarrhoea.

This is the first time the government is including hygiene promotion as well as rota vaccine in its annual immunization campaign that aims to curb child mortality, morbidity and disability associated with vaccine preventable diseases.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population, “Launched as ‘Expanded Program on Immunization’ in 2034 BS, the national immunization program has helped in reduction of under 5 mortality goal (MDG 4). Routine immunization provides equitable services to the geographically, economically hard to reach, marginalized community through more than 16,000 outreach sessions. Currently, 11 antigens are provided through the routine immunization program.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes routine immunization as sustainable, reliable and timely interaction between the vaccine, those who deliver it and those who receive it to ensure every person is fully immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Meanwhile, the need to integrate hygiene promotion into the program became more significant this year due to the threats posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Hygiene partner for the drive, WaterAid Nepal, formed a partnership with the Ministry of Health and Population– Family Welfare Division (MoHP-FWD), to respond to the need for hygiene promotion and immunisation integration.

This further led to running a one-year pilot project in 2014 through which hygiene promotion activities were delivered in all routine immunisation clinics of Jajarkot, Bardiya, Nawalparasi and Myagdi districts.

WaterAid Nepal used its hygiene behaviour change approach — Behaviour Centred Design – BCD (ABCDE steps) — to scientifically design, implement and evaluate the pilot project which concluded prioritizing five key behaviours for hygiene promotion. It included change in multiple hygiene behaviours such as exclusive breastfeeding, handwashing with soap, food hygiene, faeces management and boiling water/milk.

The hygiene promotion package was tested together with routine immunization and it proved to be effective.

Speaking at the launch program, Health Minister Dhakal said, “Around 4.2 lakh kids are infected with rota virus in Nepal each year. Though the government had decided to add rota and typhoid vaccines in its routine immunization program in 2012, we were able to include rota vaccine only this year due to various reasons.”

“Similarly, we have also prepared our guidelines to integrate hygiene promotion in the program and trained healthcare professionals as well as sanitation staff for the same.”

He added that 1.5 ml of rota vaccine, costing around Rs 516 each, will be administrated orally to around 620,000 children free of cost through 753 local governments’ healthcare units across the country.

The vaccines were provided by GAVI, support form UNICEF and technical support from WHO. Similarly, 16,000 hygiene promotion packages were made available by WaterAid Nepal with the support of USAID.

Minister Dhakal also thanked the supporting organizations for their help in distributing the vaccines as well as hygiene promotion packages to all 77 districts amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown.