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November 18, 2019

Polio chaos


November 18, 2019

Pakistan already has a great many perils to wrestle with. It is now clear that polio, which had appeared to have come under control with high hopes of eradication until two years ago, is back with a bang. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, backed by the WHO and other organizations, 82 cases of polio have been reported to date this year alone. This is a three-fold increase over the number for 2018 while in previous years and even steeper fall had suggested polio could soon be eradicated. Currently Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only countries to remain on the list of nations endemic for the disease.

What is even worse are the reports appearing in the international media of a potentially dangerous cover-up by Pakistan polio authorities. The publications, citing sources inside and outside the country, say that some weeks ago a kind of polio known for its crippling effect reappeared in the country after having disappeared for years. Between 8 to 12 cases of polio Type Two are reported to have been discovered in the northern areas, mainly in the Diamer district. However rather than admitting the problem and the gravity of the situation, the reports say that a secret vaccination campaign was conducted. Polio vaccines had been stripped of the polio Type Two strain for a number of years since this variety of the disease had been wiped out. Its reappearance is alarming. So is the high number of cases being reported from all parts of the country and even major cities like Karachi and Lahore.

The government’s polio authorities have denied the reports about polio Type Two or any secret vaccination drive. However, regardless of the truth, it is quite apparent our polio problem is on the rise. The government’s team in its latest meeting has said that strategy could be changed where necessary and all refusals eliminated through persuasion and awareness raising. This however is not a process that can occur overnight. What we need to understand more fully is why we have had a resurgence of polio, making Pakistan the country that the WHO and other global bodies say they are most alarmed about. In the past, travel restrictions have been placed on Pakistanis because of the high rate of polio. These could return. We need to launch an emergency effort to combat polio and save our children. Failing to discuss the rising figures will not help but will simply cause greater damage and make it even harder to push back polio.

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