The polio scourge

Vaccination campaigns in insurgency hit areas have repeatedly had to be postponed or cancelled.

Editorial March 21, 2011

Till 2007, when 32 cases of the potentially paralysing disease were detected in the country, Pakistan had seemed to be winning its war on polio. For several years before this, numbers had remained low and the possibility of the country being removed from the list of endemic countries had seemed a realistic objective. This is no longer the case. In 2010, 144 cases were recorded, the highest anywhere in the world. Pakistan, always with India, Afghanistan and Nigeria, continuous to be labelled by the WHO as polio-endemic nation.

This is no small setback. It is a huge blow which means dozens of children may end up paralysed for life. Polio has also surfaced in districts, including those in Balochistan, where no case had been recorded for years. In response to the emergency situation, the president, with the aid of international aid groups, has been attempting to work out an emergency response plan.

If we are to regain a toehold in the war on polio, several things need to be done. The most critical among these is understanding what has gone wrong, so that steps can be taken to avoid such pitfalls. Some of these are well known. Vaccination campaigns in insurgency hit areas have repeatedly had to be postponed or cancelled. Even when they do take place, local people report that vaccination teams rarely move outside major centres. They cannot be blamed for this, given cases of kidnapping or even murder in the past. Still more disturbing is the report by the National Institute of Health which states that poor handling and storage may have rendered some of the oral vaccine ineffective. At least some of the cases of polio which have surfaced are among vaccinated children.

More innovative means to deliver the drops to children in remote and potentially unsafe communities are reportedly being developed, with villagers trained to administer the vaccine themselves. Other steps need to be taken and administrative loopholes closed so that Pakistan can join the list of countries that have won their battle against polio.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2011.

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Amina Sarwar | 10 years ago | Reply 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.
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