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September 20, 2020

Immunization efforts

Editorial

 
September 20, 2020

According to a report from theToba Tek Singh district, a six-month-old girl has been diagnosed with polio virus type two, despite being immunized against the disease. The district health officer has confirmed that she had indeed received polio drops, along with other routine vaccines. The National Institute of Health in Islamabad has confirmed that the child has contracted polio, and her father says her leg has been paralyzed by the sickness which cripples thousands of children each year. This year, the polio campaign in the country has been badly sabotaged by the Covid-19 crisis and the problems imposed by lockdowns and the difficulty in allowing for new teams to move through districts.

It is, however, a concern that the child who had received the drops has come down with polio. Health officials deny there is any problem with the vaccine. However, they do concede that the routine vaccination and immunisation processes suffer from faults and weaknesses, notably in three districts of Punjab – Jhang, Toba Tek Singh and Faisalabad. This is obviously unfortunate; it needs to be remedied as soon as possible. A new campaign against polio is to begin in a few days’ time. It is vital that this time around no child is missed and that full coverage is given to every child under five in the areas where the campaign is to take place. There are now 62 cases of polio reported from Pakistan this year, 147 were reported in 2019. This compares to only 12 in 2018. The return of the polio virus type two is also disturbing. It was thought to have been more or less eliminated from most parts of the country.

There is also a distinct resurgence of the disease in Punjab, with more cases coming in over the past two years than in previous years. Punjab in 2015, for example, had reported no cases of polio. But the matter has to be tackled as an emergency for the whole country. The upturn in polio can simply not be accepted. And the situation where a vaccinated child has developed the disease is obviously cause for grave alarm. It needs to be investigated if other children have been properly vaccinated, and are now immune against polio, or other diseases for which they have received vaccines. We hope that in the coming months, the polio campaign will resume. This is essential for Pakistan and the health of its children. Pakistan is now the only endemic country for polio alongside Afghanistan. This must change so that the country can join the majority of nations which are now polio free.