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February 11, 2019

A tough fight


February 11, 2019

Pakistan, as one of the only two countries in the world which remain endemic for the disease, continues its long battle against polio. In a major setback, it has been learnt now that during the first anti-polio drive of the year, 175,000 children missed receiving the anti-polio drops; this is out of 7.3 million children in Sindh. Provincial Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has been told that 88,472 children could not be vaccinated as they were not present in their homes at the time that the teams visited while the parents of around 86,863 refused to allow the teams to administer the anti-polio drops to their children. CM Murad Ali Shah has expressed concern over the matter and has asked anti-polio officials not to tolerate any more refusals. This has been a factor in Pakistan’s failure to keep all its children safe from polio, with myths about the safety of the vaccine and campaigns by extremists against it leading to families declining the drops. The alarming fact that the polio virus has been detected in sewage in six areas of Karachi has added to concerns that the virus could reach children across the city.

Since 2014, when 306 cases of polio were reported in the country, the highest figure in over a decade, Pakistan has been faring better in its efforts to wipe out the disease. In 2018, 12 cases were reported, including six in the tribal areas and one each from Sindh and Punjab. This indicated an important improvement in Sindh’s record over the years. But experts warn that the province remains at high risk; and the provincial government has now ordered that the polio vaccination be declared mandatory at all private and public schools. It is very discouraging that Pakistan is still struggling to eliminate polio and that archaic ideas about the vaccine contribute to the problem. However, the gains being made are encouraging. But they do need to be built on and safeguards also set up to avoid the loopholes in the system of delivery which have held back complete coverage in the past. Till every child in the country is vaccinated against polio, Pakistan cannot claim success.

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