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Friday October 22, 2021

Polio campaign

September 22, 2021

Pakistan is one of the only two unfortunate countries in the world which have not been able to eradicate polio as yet; the other being Afghanistan. With this dubious distinction another polio immunisation campaign to vaccinate children under the age of five years has started nationwide. This is the third national campaign in 2021 which started in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on September 17 and in the rest of the country on September 20. A feature of the campaign is that it also administers a supplementary dose of Vitamin-A to all children of this age group. The number of frontline workers going house to house is nearly 300,000 – all of them aiming to protect children from the lifelong paralysis that the poliovirus causes. Over 40 million children are to get vaccinated against the poliovirus. Sadly, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the safety of the polio teams has once again been compromised as in Kohat a policeman guarding the team has died after an unidentified assailant shot him in broad daylight. The security issue and the killing of either polio workers themselves or those guarding them has been a barrier to eradicating the disease in the country. There must be foolproof arrangements for their security as during each campaign such attacks take place and no culprits get any punishment.

Reliable research studies have given evidence that nearly half of the children in Pakistan are deficient in vitamin-A, necessitating supplementary doses of this vital protection against diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, measles, and night blindness. The report from the polio front has been encouraging this year as only one case of this virus has come to light. But this should not be a cause for complacency in any way. Without continued efforts from all quarters to vaccinate every eligible child, no assurance is there about this virus not surging again. One of the main hurdles in the way to complete eradication of polio from Pakistan has been an undue reluctance on the part of parents in vaccinating their children. The lack of accurate information and campaigns led by clerics or other extremists about the polio campaign being a Western conspiracy has created a suspicion about the amber drops given out by the health workers. There are around two dozen high-risk districts in the country that deserve particular attention and redoubling of efforts. It is a pity that while countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and even sub-Saharan Africa have all eradicated polio, we being the fifth target country in the world are still struggling.

There is also a need to upstage more mass-awareness campaigns highlighting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. This is the season in which there is the highest possibility of transmission of this virus as it becomes more active in the end of the summer and beginning of fall every year. Infants and newborns are at a higher risk of polio infection during this season. All caregivers of children must consider it their foremost responsibility to vaccinate their wards on a priority basis. There is also a need to inform parents that if they miss the home visit of frontline workers, they can still immunise their children at a nearby health facility. Polio is a preventable disease and protection against it is everybody’s responsibility in the country. The fact that there has been only one wild poliovirus case reported in 2021 compared to 84 cases at the same time last year is encouraging and gives us hope that the eradication of polio is within our reach. We must not squander this opportunity and must strive to achieve full eradication.