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October 24, 2020

‘Let’s all work together to eradicate polio from Sindh, Pakistan and the world’

Lahore

October 24, 2020

EOC Coordinator, Sindh

“It has been a long journey, from t h o u s a n d s of cases in the ‘90s to only 77 in 2020. Let’s all work together and eradicate polio from Sindh, Pakistan, and the world and make history,” said the EOC Coordinator, Sindh, Fayaz Hussain Abbasi in an exclusive interview to The News. Fayaz says that the Emergency Operation Centre for Polio was created in January 2015 with the purpose of “one team under one roof” involving all partners in polio eradication with the government firmly leading the programme. “At that time we had just come off a year which saw 306 cases of polio in the country out of which 30 were from Sindh, 23 being from Karachi. We brought down the figure to just 1 polio case in Sindh by 2018, polio eradication was in touching distance. However, we had setbacks in 2019 due to the Peshawar incident and in 2020 because of COVID-19 across the country, resulting in large gaps in campaigns,” he maintained. Fayaz Hussain Abbasi shared: “In 2020 there are 22 cases of polio in Sindh, far too many. This is because of a long gap of around 5 months during COVID-19 which left an immunity gap that we are now addressing with monthly campaigns. Sindh has a total target population of just over 9 million children under the age of 5 years, out of these more than 2 million reside in Karachi. Our recent campaigns have achieved high coverage and if we continue with this momentum until December, it will go a long way to not only reduce cases but also remove polio from the environment.” Talking about the major challenges they are facing, Abbasi says, “First challenge was the pause in campaigns because of COVID-19 during 2020. The other was the Peshawar incident of April 2019, where fake propaganda against the polio vaccine resulted in widespread misconceptions. We overcame these challenges through engaging with the communities, involving community influencers, religious leaders, pediatricians, and celebrities across the province to speak in favour of and to sensitize people about the polio vaccine. Our workers follow all the safety protocols while going in the field.” Sharing his thoughts as to why Pakistan being unsuccessful in eradicating polio, he says: “We are on the brink of polio eradication and there is no doubt we will be successful. In Pakistan in 2017 we only had 8 cases and in 2018 we had only 12. This was a huge reduction from the 306 cases reported in 2014 and of course there used to be thousands of cases before just two decades ago. I believe if the Peshawar incident hadn’t taken place followed by the COVID pandemic then our destination would be in touching distance. It is also important to understand that we had a security situation in the country which was earlier not conducive for polio eradication, however this is now under control. Meanwhile Pakistan is also a country with population which is frequently traveling within the country and across borders which makes polio eradication more challenging,” he explained. Giving his personal statement, Abbasi says: “On the World Polio Day, I want to thank our frontline workers, the women who have tirelessly gone door to door to provide the lifesaving polio vaccine to children, I salute them. I would also request parents to cooperate with these workers. Let’s all work together and eradicate polio from Sindh, Pakistan and the world, let’s make history!”