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Punjab to launch polio campaign after positive samples

By Our Correspondent
February 01, 2023

LAHORE:Punjab is all set to launch a massive case response after two of the Lahore’s polio environmental sample sites tested positive on Monday.

In addition to Lahore and Faisalabad divisions, Punjab plans to vaccinate children in Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Okara cities from February 13. The National Emergency Operations Centre had earlier approved case response in Lahore division alone.

But considering the influx of high-risk mobile population, Punjab has suggested expansion of the case response to mega cities. Okara has been suggested for inclusion in the case response due to its proximity to Lahore and frequent population movement.

Punjab has 31 permanent environmental sampling sites including six from Lahore located at Multan Road, Gulshan Ravi Station, Mehmood Booti and three at Outfall Road. This January, Gulshan-e-Ravi and Multan Road sites have tested positive.

Earlier environmental sites in Lahore, Sialkot, Bahawalpur and Rawalpindi had tested positive in July, August, September and November 2022 sporadically. But after successful implementation of cases responses, the virus was driven out of the cities.

The Punjab Emergency Operations Centre expected the detection of the virus in the ongoing low season as thousands of families travel to the province from polio hotspots owing to harsh weather and to earn livelihoods. Children vulnerability increases due to the movement as families who are travelling may carry the virus to non-infected zones.

Lahore has 70,000 under five children who belong to high risk and mobile population. In order to prevent re-infection from virus originating from infected zones, Punjab is tracking and vaccinating ‘not available’ children, especially from high-risk mobile populations.

Punjab is focusing on three high-risk mega districts of Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad where most of the priority and high risk as well as mobile population resides. The three districts are also home to approximately 40 percent of high-risk mobile population children (206,644 out of 513004 total High-Risk Mobile Population children).

In his statement, the Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Khizer Afzaal called on the parents to ensure that children are vaccinated in the upcoming campaigns. “It is extremely important that all children are vaccinated in February campaign. Especially travelling families must ensure children are vaccinated on transit points: be it a entry point to the country, provinces or a district. During the polio campaigns, travelling families must also vaccinate children by polio teams at the place they are staying. I urge parents to be a good and responsible host and refer unvaccinated children to the nearest government health facilities to protect them from polio virus”, the EOC head underscored.

“The positive sample in Lahore indicates that virus is circulating”, said the head of the polio programme. “Even if no polio case has been identified it’s alarming for all the children”, underlined Khizer Afzaal.

“Government plans to vaccinate every child by administering polio drops to boost their immunity against crippling disease”, he added. “If a single case is reported in a region, it remains threat to children residing in 200 houses in vicinity. Even though no case is reported from Punjab up till now, but the positive environmental samples are a clear message to all the parents to vaccinate their children with two drops of polio every time it is offered”, added the EOC coordinator.

Government considers surveillance for Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) to be the ‘gold standard’ for polio surveillance in endemic and polio-free countries. But experts also indicated that environmental surveillance was feasible and could serve as an early warning system for the detection of poliovirus when targeting areas where high-risk groups, such as mobile population, under or un-immunised populations, reside.