Polio eradication: Time to pull up their socks

Published: January 7, 2011
Polio cases rise from 86 in 2009 to 140 in 2010, Ministry of Health drafts emergency plan.

Polio cases rise from 86 in 2009 to 140 in 2010, Ministry of Health drafts emergency plan.

ISLAMABAD: Shortcomings in the national polio eradication programme that failed to curtail polio cases in the country have led the Ministry of Health to draft a new emergency action plan for 2011.

The need arose due to stark figures that showed that despite a much-publicised polio campaign, Pakistan had the worst indicators of children affected from the disease in 2010 in comparison to other countries, according to the Ministry of Health.

In India, about 685 polio cases were reported in 2009 which dropped to 41 in 2010, in Afghanistan, 31 cases in 2009 dropped to 24 in 2010, while in Nigeria there were 388 cases in 2009 which decreased to 15 in 2010. Pakistan remained the only country where polio cases increased from 86 in 2009 to 140 in 2010.

Sharing details, an official requesting anonymity said under the new action plan, a strategy is being planned to reach out to those in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata). The region remained inaccessible by polio teams due to security and other issues and had 71 polio cases reported in 2010.

“There are about 300,000 children in Fata who are inaccessible,” the official said and added that their migration is also causing polio to spread in the country. Under the new action plan, polio teams will be working with army officials in these areas.

Moreover, the ministry has tried to involve influential people of these areas to make polio vaccination possible. Earlier, some religious clerics had expressed their reservations against the immunisation drive.

Talking to The Express Tribune, MNA Kamran Khan belonging to Waziristan said, “The government did not take us into confidence about the polio campaign.”

Munir Orakzai, an MNA from Fata, said, “The reason behind the increase in polio cases in the region is because of the migration of families from Afghanistan to this region on a daily basis.”

Sindh remained the second province with increase in number of cases, with 26 in 2010 from 11 in 2009. The rise was attributed to administrative problems and the recent floods.

The new action plan formulated by the Ministry of Health will be presented to the prime minister in the mid of January and later at the end of the month to the president for final approval.

Gates Foundation, World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and the Government of Japan will support the ministry in the formation and execution of the project.

The ministry will have DCOs, governors and chief ministers supervising and monitoring the campaigns and will be held accountable for the result. Participation of parliamentarians will also be ensured.National Manager of the Expanded Program on Immunization Dr Altaf Bosan said the action plan was still in its initial stages.

“A strategy will be chalked out to eradicate the disease completely from the county by the end of 2011,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Athar Rana, head of Immunisation Department Shifa International Hospital, said polio is a preventable disease but lack of awareness and irresponsible attitude of officials towards storing the vaccine in low temperatures were the main reasons behind rise in its cases in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Amina Sarwar
    Jan 11, 2011 - 12:28PM

    As a result of concerted efforts of the Government of Pakistan with the assistance of international agencies, the polio incidence had fallen to 28 in 2005 which once again are on the rise.
    The polio eradication initiative in Pakistan was launched in 1994. The initial success can be measured from the fact that total number of polio cases declined from 1155 in 1997 to 28 in 2005. Since then the number is growing every year. In 2007, there were 32 reported cases which increased to 117 in 2008. According to WHO, the number has reportedly swollen to 140 cases by 2010. Even among in four endemic countries the incidents of Polio is far more less than Pakistan. For example, the reported cases in Afghanistan during the current year are 24.
    The main reason of slow progress of anti-polio drive can be attributed to weak infrastructure of primary health care, scarcity of human resources, propaganda against polio program by militants especially in KP and FATA, lack of awareness among the parents, non-availability of vaccines, and limited out reach of health units. Moreover, the uneducated people fail to appreciate the difference between polio vaccination and normal immunization. However, the major reason for slow progress is that campaign is mostly confined to major cities and it has yet to reach the rural areas.
    The rising trend as shown in past few years needs to be checked. In this regard, a well conceived strategy needs to be worked out in consultation of WHO to combat the growing menace of polio endemic. The program has to be taken to grass root level by involving community leaders, Ulemas, and social workers. Arrangements are to be made to ensure polio vaccines to all parts of the country including rural and tribal. The manpower involved needs to be trained so that it works with missionary zeal. Media has a wider role to play to raise the public awareness and educate the parents about their responsibility to get their children vaccinated on time. Recommend

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