Running backwards in polio eradication race

Published: February 10, 2011

With another case confirmed in Sindh, speakers dismayed by failure of drive. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Three-year old Aamira Aamir, a resident of Tandu Allahyar District, was diagnosed with polio on Wednesday by the National Institute of Health (NIH). This is the first case of polio reported in 2011 from Sindh, and takes the total number of polio cases reported in 2011 to four, including two from Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and one from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).

The report coincided with a legislative forum on Wednesday that urged the tabling of the Compulsory Immunization Bill before the parliament and provincial assemblies as soon as possible to improve the limited coverage and poor results of recent immunisation drives in the country.

The forum titled, ‘The critical need to improve immunization in Pakistan and the draft Compulsory Immunization Bill,’ was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) at a local hotel.

The objective behind the discussion was to provoke much-needed debate on the need to make immunization campaigns more effective.

Speakers expressed their concern over the increasing number of polio cases in 2010, adding that theimmunization programme was launched in 1978, but despite spending huge funds and resources for over 30 years, it has failed to achieve the required goals.

Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan Health Policy Forum President Dr Sania Nishtar said the failure of the government to eradicate polio from the country has jeopardised worldwide efforts to wipe out the disease.

“The major reason behind the presence of polio in the county is not a shortage of funds and other resources but poor governance and health system,” she said.

Dr Nishtar said Pakistan is getting substantial funding for polio eradication but due to lack of a proper management and irresponsible attitude of health officials, it has become a major concern.

The state’s system of delivering polio vaccine is weak as it is not well-planned, not properly monitored and the vaccine is often not kept under the required temperature, she added.

There is a misconception that polio is spreading due to migration, but according to the serology of polio patients it is clear that the virus has different features from foreign strains, she said.

“Polio should be dealt with on an emergency basis and the armed forces should be fully mobilised in campaigns,” she urged.

Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Anwarul Haq expressed disappointment that Pakistan is the only country where polio cases are rising, adding that in Sindh the major reason behind the increase in cases is the clash between the common man and the elite. “We never hear that the child of a feudal lord has become a polio victim,” he said.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) MPA Zameen Khan complained about the government’s “ignorant” attitude towards the people of K-P in its effort to eradicate polio. He highlighted the need to first impart knowledge about what exactly the legislation is, its importance, and its positive impact on people’s lives.

Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood Ahmed Khan said that one of the reasons behind the presence of polio in the country is a lack of coordination between parliament and provincial assemblies.

National Assembly Parliamentary Caucus on Immunization Vice President Fozia Ejaz Khan stressed the need for public representatives to take interest and work in their own areas to make immunisation campaigns successful.

“Immunization teams are paid only Rs150 to go door-to-door to administrate polio drops during the campaign which is too little and discourages them,” she said.

She said due to the high illiteracy rate, it has become difficult to change the mindset of people on polio vaccination.

Khan also blamed the failure of the local government system for the lack of success in the campaign.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2011.

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