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Sunday July 14, 2024

Pakistan launches polio vaccination drive to protect over 8.8m children

This polio outbreak response campaign is being held in 11 districts of Balochistan, seven districts of Sindh and five districts of Punjab

By M Waqar Bhatti
March 26, 2024
A health worker administers polio drops to a child at a railway station during a polio vaccination campaign. — AFP/File
A health worker administers polio drops to a child at a railway station during a polio vaccination campaign. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A crucial polio campaign to immunize more than 8.8 million children under the age of five against the paralyzing poliovirus began in 26 districts of the country on Monday.

This polio outbreak response campaign is being held in 11 districts of Balochistan, seven districts of Sindh and five districts of Punjab after the detection of cases in Dera Bugti and Chaman and the detection of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in sewage samples of several districts of these provinces.

Urging parents to vaccinate their children, Federal Secretary for Health Iftikhar Ali Shallwani said, “Protecting children from incurable polio is a top priority for the government, which is why in response to virus detections, we are deploying polio teams during Ramadan to vaccinate children and keep their immunity against polio high.”

“Poliovirus can leave your child paralyzed for life and children must have the immunity to fight off infection. I urge all parents in these districts where the virus has been found to open your door to vaccinators and ensure that your children receive two drops of this essential vaccine”, he added.

Dr Shahzad Baig, Coordinator for the National Emergency Operations Center for Polio Eradication, said that WPV1 has been detected in 71 samples so far this year, mostly in Balochistan and Sindh, and has paralyzed two children in Balochistan.

“This vaccination campaign is specifically being held in districts where there have been virus detections ahead of Eid to prevent any further spread as people travel for the holidays,” he said, adding that the Polio Programme has a rapid response system in place and has already conducted two nationwide campaigns in January and February, while following this campaign, another vaccination drive is planned at the end of April.

Pakistan had its first two polio cases of 2024, both in Balochistan. Sindh launched a polio vaccination campaign today (March 25th) in response to recent polio cases and the ongoing presence of the virus in sewage samples.

This initiative aims to vaccinate 2.7 million children under the age of 5 against poliovirus in eight districts Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Kambar, Kashmore, Larkana, Sukkur, Ghotki and Khairpur, where Khairpur district is included partially.

Around 8100 dedicated vaccination teams will be working throughout the province, ensuring that every eligible child receives this life-saving vaccine.

The campaign was launched officially by the EOC Sindh Provincial Coordinator, Irshad Ali Sodhar, at the Shaikh Zaid Children’s Hospital, Larkana. Speaking at the inauguration, Irshad said that we have to make sure that no child is left unvaccinated during the campaign so that we can stop the circulation of the virus once and for all.

The inauguration was attended by the Deputy Commissioner Larkana Dr Shabbir Noor Channa, ADC1 Asif Raza Chandio, BMGF Technical Focal Person Dr Ahmed Ali Shaikh, DHO Dr Syed Athar Ali Shah, members of the DEOC and EOC Sindh.

Earlier, at a meeting in Larkana with the DEOC teams and members of the Provincial EOC Sindh, the Coordinator said that his team was here at the districts’ disposal to support them during this campaign. He assured the gathering that their presence here was a testament to how seriously we are taking the OBR campaign.

Positive environmental samples (31) have been found in Sindh (24 in Karachi) this year, highlighting the risk of polio spreading. Since Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries with ongoing poliovirus transmission, stopping the spread is crucial for global eradication. Both countries are working together to vaccinate children and stop polio for good.

Despite security challenges and persistent virus clusters, efforts are ongoing to ensure the vaccination of every child. To ensure no child is left unprotected, parents whose children are missed due to any reason should contact the Emergency Operations Centre’s Sehat Tahaffuz Helpline 1166 or via our 24/7 WhatsApp Helpline 0346-777-65-46.

Alternatively, the parents can visit the nearest health facility for assistance.

Media is a key to countering and promoting the polio vaccination campaign. Journalists and community leaders should promote it, just like medical experts and religious scholars who support the safe and effective oral polio vaccine for a polio-free Pakistan.