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December 15, 2019

Parents and polio


December 15, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a public appeal to parents to get their children vaccinated for the sake of the children and for the sake of the nation. Imran has also emphasized that Pakistan’s failure as one of only two countries that has been unable to control polio puts its image at risk globally and prevents efforts to persuade the world it is a safe place to visit. In the upcoming anti-polio campaign, four million children are to be targeted. But in the past loopholes in the administration of such programmes, parental refusals and violence in some areas have prevented targets from being reached. The fact however is that Pakistan today stands at a very precarious place as for as the global fight against polio goes. From 12 cases in 2018, the number has grown to 94 this year and could increase further as the final tally for the year is calculated.

Cases have been reported from all the four provinces but the majority come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where there have been 72 cases. Internationally, Pakistan is now rated as a nation which is a risk factor to the rest of the world in terms of the presence of various strains of polio, and the possibility that they may reach other nations. Strains of polio which were previously thought were eliminated have also resurfaced.

While the prime minister has thanked his health team for its support in dealing with the polio problem, the fact is that realistically speaking the government and the polio management team in the country need to assess what has gone wrong. Till two years ago Pakistan stood on the brink of eradicating polio and joining all countries of the world – except Afghanistan – which have succeeded in this. While administrative flaws, social media campaigns and attacks on polio workers may all be factors, these problems have not appeared suddenly and are not new. The strategy being utilized needs to be assessed. The appeal to parents sends out a positive message. We also need to use the media and other institutions which can influence people about the risks of polio. There is still too little awareness of this and too much misinformation about the vaccine. A holistic campaign is needed and all who can play a part brought together to help tackle a major polio crisis.

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