The country’s least populated dzongkhag, Gasa, has the lowest immunisation coverage among the dzongkhags today.

As of last year, Gasa recorded 74 percent coverage according to records with the health ministry.

The dzongkhag, however, saw increased immunisation coverage in the highlands of Lunana and Laya in the same year.

In Lunana, immunisation coverage increased from 36 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2017. Laya’s immunisation coverage of 78 percent in 2016 increased by five percent last year.

Deputy chief programme officer with the vaccine-preventable disease programme, Tshewang Tamang, said the areas with low immunisation coverage are at risk of getting infected with vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The vaccine-preventable diseases are life-threatening and immunisation is an advance measure to prevent it,” he said. “About 3 million children die of vaccine-preventable disease and around 19 million children go without vaccination globally.”

A basic health unit (BHU) in Laya caters to 213 households that have about 1,108 people. The community depends on cordycep collection and yak products.

Officials say immunisation coverage is a challenge because the people migrate to lower altitude of Punakha in winter and return to the highlands in summer.

Lunana gup Kaka said the immunisation coverage in the gewog was a concern, as it poses high health risk. “While it’s the mandate of the ministry to achieve a minimum of 90 percent coverage, the community here is not aware of the need to immunise children.”

He said there were incidences where children fell sick after immunisation and this discouraged the community from taking their children for immunisation. “The gewog has invited health officials at gewog meeting to create awareness.”

Lunana is the most remote gewog in Gasa and has over 810 people with 185 households according to the 2014 census record.

The gewog has five chiwogs of Lhedi, Raminang Uesana, Wachey, Thangza, and Tshozhong. The BHU  located in Lhedi is a day walk from the other chiwogs. The gewog also has an outreach clinic.

Dzongkhag health officer, Tashi Norbu, said immunisation coverage was low because of the transmigration practices of the community, low literacy rate and strong local myth and beliefs.

He said the dzongkhag administration is planning a target intervention programme to meet the needs of the mobile population.

Tashi Norbu said the community has the risk from outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, and measles.

Vaccines provided with support from UNICEF are available to prevent 11 diseases through routine immunisation programme reaching 56,000 children and about 13,500 pregnant women annually.