Claiming that over 100,000 parents in Sindh, including 35,000 in Karachi, have refused to get their children vaccinated against polio this year, the provincial health minister on Monday urged all such people to ensure their kids are administered oral polio vaccine (OPV) during the latest immunisation campaign.
“We’re about to eliminate polio from our soil, but it won’t be possible if more than 100,000 parents continue to refuse vaccine drops for their children,” said Dr Azra Pechuho as she inaugurated the latest immunisation drive at the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for Polio Eradication.
“Today we have started the seven-day vaccination drive in Karachi and other districts of Sindh, and we urge all parents to get their children vaccinated to help eradicate polio from the country.”
The campaign is targeting over nine million under-fives across the province, of whom approximately 2.4 million belong to Karachi. More than 56,000 front-line workers are taking part in the latest drive.
In Karachi, over 12,000 community health workers supported by more than 2,500 area incharges will go door to door to administer polio drops to children. They will be provided security by some 5,000 law enforcers.
The health minister said polio cannot be eradicated from Pakistan without its eradication from Afghanistan, adding that both countries are making joint efforts to rid themselves of the crippling disease.
She said the elite and other affluent families are also among those who refuse to get their children immunised when vaccinators visit their homes, adding that she believes those parents are getting their kids OPV drops at the fixed health centres.
“Due to their social status, our vaccinators can’t persuade the wealthy to get their children immunised at their doorsteps,” she said. She warned that if a child is weak and you do not get her vaccinated, the child can fall victim to the crippling poliovirus.
The district administration in Karachi has written to schools to get their under-five students immunised against polio when vaccinators visit their institutes, warning them that a refusal can result in cancellation of their registration and further legal action.
Letters were also sent to thousands of parents who had refused to get their children vaccinated in different districts of the city, asking them to cooperate with the vaccinators or be prepared to face the consequences.
Polio eradication officials said the campaign is extremely crucial to combat the disease, as environment samples of Karachi and other parts of Sindh have tested positive for the poliovirus.
They said a polio case had emerged in Lyari just last month, adding that parents were still not allowing the administration of polio vaccine to their children.
“Sindh has reported one case in 2019 that is from Lyari Town in Karachi, while last year one polio case was reported that was from the city’s Gadap Town,” said a Polio Eradication Initiative official, adding that two cases were reported in Sindh in 2017, eight in 2016, 12 in 2015 and 30 in 2014.
The official said that as the authorities have been stressing the need for vaccination against polio, parents are now tired of seeing health workers at their doors twice or thrice a month, but it is a crucial time for the eradication of the dreaded disease, for which the authorities require the parents’ support.
EOC Sindh Coordinator Umer Farooq Bullo said the district polio control rooms, health officials of the provincial government and anti-polio teams have done a remarkable job by bringing the count of new polio cases down, but the goal is to maintain zero cases for two consecutive years.
“Hence, we must continue to work hard and focus on the areas where the virus springs up. We have established model EPI [Expanded Programme on Immunisation] centres in underserved areas to increase routine immunisation, and will implement other programmes to improve health care delivery for their residents.”
There has been a 99 per cent reduction in polio cases across the country since 2014. The total number of polio cases in Pakistan was 12 in 2018, eight in 2017, 20 in 2016, 54 in 2015 and 306 in 2014. So far this year six polio cases have been registered in the country.
Bullo said that repeated vaccination is necessary for polio eradication and to ensure children are safe from the disease. “We request parents to cooperate with polio teams and secure the future of their own children by allowing them two drops of the vaccine.”
The Pakistan Paediatric Association and medical experts recommend that every child must be administered two drops of the vaccine every time it is offered. Religious scholars representing all the sects have also endorsed the vaccination drive, asking people to have their kids immunised to protect them from lifelong disability.