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March 30, 2020

Polio in a pandemic

Editorial

 
March 30, 2020

We are already struggling badly to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic which has now claimed 13 lives in our country. But even while we continue life under lockdown and watch the terrifying scenes from the country’s hospitals where badly equipped medical staff battle to treat the growing number of patients, we must not forget that the terrible shadow of polio continues to lurk over us and threatens to turn into an epidemic – once again. Pakistan is already one of only two countries in the world endemic for polio, the other being Afghanistan. Last year, it recorded 146 cases of a disease that had been on the brink of being wiped out in 2017, when eight cases were recorded and 2018, when the total for the year was 12.

The current chaos in the country means a new epidemic of the virus could hit us at any time. We must attempt to prevent this by continuing with our anti-polio drive. The first phase of this was carried out in February, before the coronavirus threat paralysed our lives. The fact that we are now forced due to the coronavirus to observe social distancing and limit travel would make any drive against polio harder. But mechanisms must be found to deliver the vital vaccine to children under five who risk being crippled for life by an illness that can be easily prevented simply by swallowing a few amber drops at regular intervals. How this would be managed in the situation Covid-19 has placed us in must be thought out. We will need to be innovative.

Experts will no doubt be able to offer other suggestions. The situation certainly makes the delivery of drops more difficult. But this difficulty must not tempt us to abandon the effort and allow hundreds of children to be affected or even killed by the disease. Already, 33 cases have been reported this year; 15 of them are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province which was also worse affected in 2019. Two new cases were uncovered in Sindh during the last few days. Nationwide action is needed. It must be planned and enacted swiftly to avoid yet another health disaster with a long-term impact. Polio has been wiped out by almost the entire world. Pakistan must not lag behind.