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October 24, 2020

‘Polio eradication is not a job, it is a noble cause’

Karachi

October 24, 2020

EOC Coordinator, Balochistan

Balochistan is the largest province of P a k i s t a n , with an estimated population of 12.35 million that spreads over an area of 347,190 km2 constituting 44% of Pakistan’s total landmass with a population density of only 37 persons/Km2. The target population is around 2.5million children in Balochistan for Polio. Out of 33 districts, 07 northwest districts, named Killa Abdullah, Pishin, Quetta, Nushki, Chagai, Zhob & Killa Saifullah (and a strip ofMastung District too) have direct borders with Afghanistan where more than 1.5 million children remain unvaccinated. Talking exclusively to The News about polio situation in Balochistan, EOC Coordinator, Balochistan, Rashid Razzaq, says: “Balochistan, particularly the Quetta Block (Quetta, Pishin & Killa Abdullah) has historically been known as Core Reservoir for polio virus circulation since Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Circulation of the indigenous virus was interrupted in the province during late 2017 and remained virusfree till Aug 2018 after the introduction of CBV (Community based vaccination) intervention in 2016. However, due to heavy, continued circulation of virus in neighbouring Afghanistan and other provinces, virus was repeatedly re-introduced, and circulation is now re-established. “As many as 23 Polio cases have been confirmed during 2020 as of 21st Oct from 11 districts of Balochistan,” he noted with concern. Talking about the challenges faced by the Pakistan Polio Eradication Intuitive, he says: “The killings of vaccination teams/polio security personnel and anti-polio publicity on social media & some mainstream TV channels, especially the fake Peshawar incident in April 2019, adversely impacted the overall implementation of the program. Additionally, there was a massive cross-border movement of high-risk populations through Friendship Gate at Chaman, district Killa Abdullah. More than 1.5 million children remain un-vaccinated there due to a ban on polio vaccination by Taliban Groups; nomadic, seasonal, economic migrants to Quetta Block fromareas of virus circulation” he said and added, “Furthermore, 90% of polio workers in Tehsils of Killa Abdullah aremales having no/little access inside the houses leading to missing of < 1- year children; PEI faces multiple challenges in this district like very rigid community, inter & intra-tribal conflicts, high rates of vaccine non-acceptance, program exploitation by workers, issues of fake finger marking, over-reporting of coverage et,” he added. “Luckily, Balochistan has a strong network of more than 4,200 Community Based Vaccinators (CBV) that work not only on the operational side of administering polio drops but also on social mobilisation and community awareness on Polio and other vaccinepreventable childhood diseases. The number of chronic refusal households reduced through communication & CBV workforce, supported by district administration,” he said with a sense of pride. As for the commitment to this national cause at national level he calls for a uniform quality of campaign all over Pakistan, engagement, and commitment of all political parties to support programs from national to the provincial level. “There is a need to remove concerns of people on vaccine safety and efficacy to expect sustainable results, and also a need for strong ownership across the board of the PEI program,” he maintained. Giving his personal commitment to the cause, he said: “Polio eradication is not a job; it is a noble cause for which we are working. Polio has no cure but we can prevent it. It’s the responsibility of all of us to protect our children and give them a healthy future,” he concluded.