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September 28, 2019

WHO identifies reasons for rising polio cases

Lahore

September 28, 2019

LAHORE:The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that lack of political will and gap in immunisation campaigns is the major cause of increasing number of polio cases in Pakistan this year while the challenges in reaching children remained.

Addressing a seminar on “Poliomyelitis- the Endgame Strategy”, here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) Friday, WHO Team Lead for Polio Eradication in Punjab, Dr Raul Bonifacio said that because of the recent cases, the total number of polio cases had increased to 50 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and overall cases across the country reached 66, as compared to 12 cases in 2018 and eight cases in 2017.

“During the current year, six cases have been reported from Sindh and five each from Balochistan and Punjab,” he said. Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission, alongside Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, 16 cases of polio have been reported this year as compared to 21 last year.

Dr Bonifacio said that survey had shown that parental/community refusal to vaccination was not because of religious issues. He said that doctors were bigger opinion leaders than religious figures in most of the communities in Pakistan who needed to show their commitment to eradicate the crippling disease besides improving their diagnostic skills.

He pointed out that the risks to Pakistan span beyond the areas where the polio cases were reported and a determined focus on delivering high quality campaigns that ensure finding and vaccinating every missed child was critical to stop virus circulation.

WHO Surveillance Officer, Dr Ujala Nayyar said that anti-vaccine propaganda had been an issue in Pakistan. During a National Immunisation Days campaign in Peshawar for example, a rumour that the polio vaccine would make children unwell, led to more than 37,000 children rushed to hospital in one day, a basic health unit set on fire, and indirectly the death of several vaccinators and security staff.

She added that polio was a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. Repeated immunisation protected millions of children. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where poliovirus continues to persist. She said that immunisation programme was using a combination of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) to boost individual immunity in children (aged 4-23 months).

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