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January 13, 2021

Pushing away polio

Editorial

 
January 13, 2021

Pakistan has begun its latest drive to make 2021 the first year during which no polio cases emerge in the country. To do so, a five-day campaign has been launched from January 11, targeting 40 million children across the country. Children under five will be administered polio drops, while those between six months and five years will, in addition, also be given vitamin A drops as part of a more integrated campaign to tackle various diseases, deficiencies, hygiene, and sanitation as part of a holistic health programme. Pakistan this year hopes to build on its successes in 2020 when 84 cases of polio were reported in a 12-month period, during which the focus remained firmly on the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, from July onwards, the country's polio eradication programme played a primary role not only in delivering polio drops during six different drives in selected areas where possible, but also collecting data on Covid-19 and educating people about it.

In 2019, Pakistan had reported 147 cases, creating alarm around the world about the country's inability to eradicate polio. The improved showing in 2020 is a positive step. But much more will need to be done this year and of course, in the years that follow this. In the first place, Pakistan has received various setbacks due to flaws in the administration of the programmes it has run against polio, as well as refusals by people in the wake of fake news about the negative impact of the vaccine. A communication strategy is being devised to combat this now. Pakistan also hopes to provide education to people about the need to tackle polio and keep children safe from a crippling disease, which has left thousands disabled over the years. At present Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the only two countries in the world which are still endemic for polio.

Around 285,000 polio workers will be deployed in the field – armed with gloves, sanitizers and masks – in order to safely administer polio drops to households across the country. But already there are some signs of trouble. In Mirpurkhas in Sindh, 24 villages have said they will not allow their children to be vaccinated, until rainwater which has collected and stagnated in the area has been cleared. These tactics have been used before in other parts of the country too; the people who use them cannot possibly be blamed either – desperate that they are to live decent lives. Of course, people also need to be persuaded that nothing should be allowed to disrupt the polio campaign, given its significance, so that children can stay safe while other efforts to deal with civic problems created by poor governance can continue through the actions of local people and groups that support them.