World Polio Day observed across the globe on 24th October is not only a day to express our gratitude to all those associated with this noble cause across our great country but it is also a call to action for all of us to do our part to reach this historic goal.
Few ideas have greater gravity than the eradication of a human disease – just as people now live free from the fear of smallpox, so a polio-free world is within our grasp. This World Polio Day offers compelling evidence for Pakistan to celebrate the milestones that the country has achieved in its crusade against polio. More importantly, however, it is an occasion for serious contemplation: despite being on the brink of eradication, why is Pakistan still one of last three remaining polio endemic countries in the world? Why do hundreds and thousands of children remain unvaccinated in every single campaign despite marked improvements in campaign quality and surveillance? What precautions has the country taken to pre-empt future outbreaks? And the list of questions goes on.
Pakistan’s epic fight to reverse the odds in the face of a major polio epidemic is a story of courage, resilience and innovation. Major challenges are being addressed with an unshakable resolve and a well thought-out and effectively executed strategy under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The indomitable courage of our polio workers who brave the odds in the face of often unfriendly and at times intimidating conditions in some areas finds no precedent elsewhere in the world. Nothing could dampen the spirit of these angels of hope who continue to spread light at every doorstep-unfazed, undeterred. These men and women represent the true spirit of Pakistan-a nation of the resilient, courageous and determined.
It is heartening to see that today as we observe the World Polio Day, the current polio virus picture of Pakistan provides reason for optimism. It is however critical that the gains so far achieved are sustained and intensified in the remaining areas of polio virus transmission.
I must say that of all the factors that continue to take the polio programme towards achieving its goal, the most important is resolute commitment from the highest level to those on the frontlines and a firm belief that it can be done and that no one other than us will do it. We must take key decisions including those that are critical and bold on the road to realising our goals.
Polio Eradication Initiative is a partnership in which contribution of each stakeholder has played an important role in taking the programme forward. Today on the occasion of World Polio Day I would like to pay tributes to all partner agencies who have provided sustained support and continue to stand by us as we forge ahead in this noble cause. We have come a long way when the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme began about 25 years ago when polio was a raging epidemic. The virus paralysed up to 20,000 vulnerable children each year. Over the years, through incredible focus and hard work, polio counts are edging close to zero, with substantial increase in immunity levels of children—meaning we are reaching a majority of the eligible child population with polio vaccine. Yet, despite all efforts, six cases of polio have been reported so far this year—meaning that we are not reaching every child. The number may seem insignificant in comparable terms, but in the current stage of disease eradication, even a single case is enough to reverse the gains of the past. And this, Pakistan can ill-afford.
We are now in the low transmission season where the virus is most vulnerable. We must use the upcoming campaigns to reach and vaccinate every child and give the virus no place to hide. When we succeed, no child will ever be needlessly paralysed by polio ever again, making it only the second human disease after smallpox to be eradicated in history, every parent and every citizen is our soldier in taking the fight to the virus.
Well planned, timely, high quality vaccination campaigns are being carried out by the programme in order to reach Pakistan’s most vulnerable children with essential vaccines. These campaigns are carried out by teams of highly committed frontline polio workers, including vaccinators, which we call Sehat Muhafiz or guardians of health. There are upto a total of 260,000 Sehat Muhafiz operating on the ground across Pakistan, ensuring that children from each and every house, in every street, district and province have been given the two essential vaccine drops in every campaign; this needed to protect them against the crippling polio virus.
At the heart of this success, however, is the support, commitment, and collective conscience of parents, caregivers and communities. These allies always open their doors to ‘Sehat Muhafiz’ teams and ensure that their children receive the necessary polio vaccine drops. By fulfilling their dutiful responsibilities as parents and citizens, they have been key players in creating an environment in which the polio can no longer thrive or debilitate our nation’s youth. There is no limit to how many times these drops can be administered as the vaccine is safe, universally accepted, and the only means for prevention of polio.
The cause also enjoys the support of Pakistan’s doctors, religious scholars, and tribal leaders who have been instrumental in educating our citizens on the need to vaccinate against polio and other diseases such as measles and tetanus.
I call upon fathers, mothers, and caregivers to ensure that two drops of the safe and effective polio drops are administered to their children. There is no limit to how many times this drop can be administered as it is safe, universally accepted, and the only means by which to prevent the poliovirus from affecting your child. Despite major gains, it is too early for us to celebrate as the final battle is yet to be won. As long as the virus circulates, all of our nation’s children are still very much at risk of contracting polio. Having been assigned the task of the leading fight against polio to victory by none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Let me say that the world will be a witness when the current government will declare final victory against the disease so no child ever is paralysed by the polio virus. The author is Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication
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