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December 6, 2019

Hard work till mid-2020 may stabilise outbreaks: NEOC

Islamabad

December 6, 2019

Islamabad :Three more polio cases-one each from districts Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, and Larkana-were confirmed on Tuesday, taking the national count to 94 so far this year.

The latest victims to have been crippled by polio include an 18-month-old boy from tehsil Parova in District Dera Ismail Khan; the child had had 7 SIA doses as per parental recall, one Routine Immunization (RI) dose, and not a single dose of Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV). Both lower limbs of the child are now paralysed for life. The second child to have been affected is a 4 month-old boy from tehsil Lakki in District Lakki Marwat; he too has suffered paralysis of both legs for not having benefitted from even a single dose of polio vaccine since birth. The third victim-again a male aged 9 months-resides in tehsil Dhokri in District Larkana; the parents of the child recall having gotten four SIA and 3 RI doses administered to him. The child has suffered paralysis of the left leg.

Meanwhile, preparations are afoot for the last door-to-door national immunization campaign of 2019, beginning December 16. The significance of the campaign can be ascertained from the fact that it will be the first nationwide polio immunization activity after the April round that was marred by the Peshawar incident. The campaign, which comes after a seven-month gap, will target 40 million children across Pakistan, with a workforce of 260,000 striving to reach out to every eligible child. NIDs are also scheduled in February and April during the current low transmission season.

Responding to a query, an official of the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), predicted that in view of the current intensity of poliovirus transmission, the number of cases in Pakistan may reach 120 by the end of 2019. "With resumption of campaigns and a renewed focus on RI, it will require hard work till mid-2020 to stabilize the outbreaks," he stated. The Pakistan polio programme is aiming for transformation of the programme in 2020 before going full throttle to achieve interruption in 2021.

When the Technical Advisory Group met in September, it identified four key failures plaguing Pakistan's polio programme. These were failure of a coherent vision and unified strategy (One Team); failure of national-provincial-district-union council management; failure of focus on high-quality programme activities; and failure to build community trust. In recommending actions, it urged the programme to urgently implement transformation with laser focus on Super High-Risk Union Councils (SHRUCs); to build community trust as a priority; to ensure high-quality Sub-Immunization Activities (SIAs); and to strengthen routine immunization.

TAG also criticized Pakistan's polio programme as being on "a failing trajectory, putting the rest of the global programme at risk." It will indeed require a lot of political commitment and sincerity to steer the programme back on track, and while the government struggles to improve campaign quality and build community trust, it is just as critical for parents to understand that rejection of a vaccine that is being made available at their doorsteps can spell lifelong disability for their children.

Parents must take charge of their children's lives. Instead of giving in to false propaganda about a certified vaccine that has eradicated polio from all but two countries of the world, they must see to it their children are vaccinated in routine for all diseases, as well as during all door-to-door immunization campaigns that are resuming after a gap of almost seven months. No child should have to lead a life of disability resulting from a vaccine-preventable disease.

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