The big push to kill polio

WHO representative in Pakistan Dr Michel Thieren has stated that polio could be eliminated in Pakistan within months

Editorial May 18, 2016

There really is a sense that the officials, vaccinators and administrators of the polio vaccination drives across the country are holding their breath. The latest in a long line of attempts to get enough children vaccinated to gain herd immunity to polio is in process as these words are written. Significantly, the WHO representative in Pakistan, Dr Michel Thieren has stated that polio could be eliminated in Pakistan within months. The number of new cases this year has dropped significantly in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two countries in the world where polio is endemic. There were 52 cases last year in Pakistan and this year just 11 so far. It is worth noting that there were 300 cases in 2014, the highest number since 1999. The three-day campaign that was launched on May 16 involves 70,000 medical staff who are aiming to immunise around 10 million children in the tribal areas, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

For the first time in many years, there is a fighting chance that Pakistan, and hopefully Afghanistan, can eradicate the polio virus. It has been a bitter battle, with many dead and injured, a high proportion of them women vaccinators and the police who were trying to protect them as they go about their business. The teams have gained access this year to places that were formerly denied to them because of poor security but the operation launched in 2014 is bearing fruit in terms of reductions in tension and the polio teams have a window of opportunity. Any celebration would be premature, the last steps are the hardest and Pakistan has been this close to eradication before. Those who oppose the vaccinators and do the killing thereof are under the delusion that the programme is some sort of clandestine effort by the West to sterilise the Muslim population. Their paranoia is also fed by the attempt to use the vaccination programme as a Trojan horse to get hold of Osama bin Laden’s DNA. That caused untold damage to the cause of eradication. We wish the campaign well and look forward to celebrating when Pakistan truly is polio-free.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2016.

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