Friday June 21, 2024

Polio lapse

By Editorial Board
September 17, 2022

According to reports, around 12,000 children in Lahore were left unvaccinated in the latest polio drive run by the government in August this year. This amounts to a disaster in a country where polio cases continue to rise by the day with at least 17 reported this year alone. Pakistan, lest we forget, is one of only two countries still endemic for polio, the other country being Afghanistan. The drive in August – in Punjab – was targeted mainly to reach children who had not been vaccinated or were missed out during previous campaigns. Quite obviously, this effort has failed. According to the figures available 10,949 children under two months were left unvaccinated, 755 in the 3-6-month age group were also missed out while 423 in the seven months to one year age group did not receive the vaccine that could save them from being crippled for life or even killed. This is a very disappointing situation and perhaps shows why Pakistan has struggled so badly to control polio in the country.

The study, by the Synergy Evaluation System of the Punjab government, also shows the problem is not new. In Lahore alone, 33860 children have been missed out in previous drives conducted during the year. The figure is rising in the sense that these unvaccinated children can pass on the virus, which has caused so much damage to others in the same age group – and notably to those who are unvaccinated. Polio is most common in children under five although any unvaccinated person can acquire the disease and be affected by it for life.

It is therefore essential that the Punjab government look into the flaws in its system of reaching children and examine why certain households or particular children are being missed again and again. In some cases, it is being reported that refusals by parents may be a problem. But there is also the issue of the manner in which the program is structured, because of which households in some areas are simply not reached, while others are visited by polio teams again and again. The lapse is extremely damaging and requires urgent action so Pakistan can finally move on to the list of countries which are free of polio, a disease we should have left behind years if not decades back. Punjab is the most developed of the country’s provinces and has reported the fewest cases over the years. Any lapses in this province then simply suggest that other mishaps may be continuing in other provinces as well, perhaps on a much larger and dangerous scale.