Pakistan did well in its campaign against polio the past year and has been able to reduce the 147 cases recorded in 2019 – which led to a sense of panic in the country and beyond – to 84...
Pakistan did well in its campaign against polio the past year and has been able to reduce the 147 cases recorded in 2019 – which led to a sense of panic in the country and beyond – to 84 in 2020 and eight in 2021. We hope that the positive trend can continue into the current year, perhaps even marking an end to Pakistan’s continued status as one of only two countries where the disease is endemic; the other country is Afghanistan. The first national polio vaccination drive of the year has begun in 70 districts of the country and in all four provinces, targeting 22.4 million children. The drive had started earlier in six high-risk districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to ensure that all households were reached, and the most vulnerable children successfully given the drops. Across our country, we see people who have been victims of a disease that is easily preventable, suffering from the aftereffects of the infection.
It is essential that the polio drive be well administered, and we can only hope that the security aspect of it goes without a hitch. Last year too we saw vaccinators and persons protecting the vaccination teams come under threat from persons who oppose vaccination against polio, essentially on the basis of a myth, apparently created by extremists, that the drops are a ‘Western conspiracy’ intended to harm Pakistani people either by rendering children sterile or by creating other problems. Fake news over social media has added to this. Dr Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the prime minister on health has said Pakistan is determined to go all out against polio and that this drive which starts today intends to achieve this. The mistakes made in 2019 have quite obviously left lessons that have been learnt. Since then, Pakistan has done a far better job. However, there are still loopholes in the process, which need to be covered and improved upon further. The reports we receive of refusals from time to time, even in mega cities like Karachi are disturbing and suggest there needs to be still more awareness raising about the threats the polio virus presents to the child and about the fact that the vaccination presents no risk or virtually no risk at all.
Pakistan also has an additional problem in the fact that polio has entered environmental sources, mainly through waterways in various parts of the country. Samples of the virus have been found in these water channels, mainly in KP, but also in other parts of the country. This problem, too, needs to be dealt with. But first of all, we need to make sure that each and every child receives the drops, which are so vital to their protection and their health, and also to taking Pakistan off the list of countries which still carry the risk of polio so that it can join the rest of the world in getting rid of a disease that has caused so much suffering over the years.