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April 16, 2021

Polio eradication programme of Punjab back on track

National

April 16, 2021

LAHORE: The polio eradication programme of Punjab is back on track through increased vaccine uptake to move towards the ultimate goal of polio eradication in the province.

“The increased vaccine uptake could not have been possible without the support of parents coupled with greater government ownership, coordination, extensive monitoring and accountability,” said Sundas Irshad, head of Punjab’s polio programme.

Talking to The News, Sundas Irshad said that no wild polio virus case has been reported from the province in 2021 so far, and only 14 samples tested positive in the first three months. “Reaching out to every child is essential to achieve the goal of polio eradication, which has been a great challenge for the programme,” she said, adding that the rapid movement of population among cities and other reasons result in substantial number of unvaccinated children.

She said the unvaccinated children cohort allows the virus to spread, and if these children are not vaccinated within a specific timeframe, the virus starts to find refuge in weak children and paralyse them.

As polio eradication is amongst the highest priority of the government, she said, the polio programme introduced various initiatives to reach every child with vaccination. “A campaign monitoring application developed in coordination with HISDU has helped the programme to strengthen the programme operations,” she informed.

The Provincial Task Force led by the chief minister and chief secretary has ensured the ownership of government in polio eradication. It has been instrumental in optimising key results at the district and area level through involvement of district management.

“If we look in 2019 and 2020, at end of campaign, programme was unable to vaccinate more than two per cent of under five children of age in Lahore and Rawalpindi. However, due to the hard work of polio teams and support of the parents, this has changed now”, she said. Discussing the challenges posed by COVID 19, the polio programme’s in-charge said, “In the aftermath of COVID-19 in 2020, polio campaigns were suspended and polio eradication looked like an uphill task. “Resumption of the campaigns appeared to be a distant dream but polio programme with the guidance of National Command and Control Centre began rolling out campaigns and reaching children with vaccine drops. Subsequently, spread of virus was brought under control through targeted campaigns,” she added.

About parents’ fears and apprehensions amid COVID-19 pandemic, Sundas Irshad said, “As anticipated, the programme faced resistance of parents who out of fear were reluctant to open doors for polio teams. “Our social mobilisers who have been active since the outbreak of COVID-19 started engaging parents. The polio programme vigilantly followed the SOPs relating to coronavirus and built rapport with parents to overcome the resistance,” she added.

She said that the chief minister, health minister and health secretary have personally led polio campaign inaugurations to allay fears of parents and drive home the message that polio eradication is top priority.

Earlier, she said, the polio virus started appearing in environment samples regularly in 2018. In 2020, the polio virus was detected in 12 districts of Punjab. In addition to the positive environmental samples, 14 polio cases were reported from the province in the last year.

“Samples turning out negative in the year 2021 is a great feat achieved by dint of the hard work of polio workers and their supervisors”, she said, adding, however, it does not mean that war is won against polio. “We will continue to vaccinate children with focus on mobile and high-risk communities travelling to and from the province,” she added. She urged the parents to continue vaccinating their children whenever anti-polio teams knock at their doors until polio is completely eradicated.