ISLAMABAD: After a new polio case was confirmed in Diamer district last week, health officials have now decided to conduct a fresh anti-polio campaign in major areas of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) on March 20th.
Amid tight security arrangements, the special campaign will be held in Diamer, Gilgit, Kohistan, Shangla and Batgram districts and parts of Mansehra and Abbottabad.
During the campaign, officials said, children below the age of five will be administered vaccine drops against the crippling polio virus.
After a gap of five years, the latest polio case emerged last Saturday in Diamer, an area with relatively high coverage of routine immunisation as compared to other regions of Pakistan.
Soon after the polio case was reported, Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq ordered a thorough investigation into the matter.
“We have immediately launched an investigation to find out more details so that we can respond adequately to protect other children in the community. The National Emergency Operation Centre’s (EOC) rapid response team is on the ground to support the teams of Diamer and Gilgit district for a strong case response round starting next week,” said the senator.
“Far-flung villages in hard to reach areas will be given special focus. A second case respond targeting seven districts will then follow in two weeks.”
Historically, only two polio cases have been reported from G-B sofar. One of the two cases appeared in 2011 and the other in 2012. However, they both were reported from the Diamer district.
“Better routine immunisation coverage as compared to many other parts of the country gives us an advantage and together with the Gilgit-Baltistan government, we will ensure that the area is polio-free once again”, she emphasised.
Coordinator of the National Emergency Operation Centre EOC Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar said that the polio virus in the area was for its survival and so was targeting children with low immunity.
According to health officials, the number of polio cases, recorded until now in Pakistan, has reached its lowest with only 20 cases reported in 2016 against the 54 cases and 306 cases reported in 2015 and 2014 respectively.
Since the start of 2017, only two polio cases have been reported as compared to the same period last year, they added. By this time of the year in 2016, some seven cases were reported – three from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), three from Sindh and one from Balochistan.
“While tremendous progress in stopping poliovirus transmission in most areas of Pakistan has been made in the past couple of years, the message from last two cases is loud and clear – as long as there is virus anywhere in the country, no child is safe from being infected, especially the children who still don’t have full immunity,” explained Senator Farooq.
“Any child with low immunity will be where the virus finds refuge. We need to ensure all our children have completed their routine immunisations and are vaccinated with two polio drops, every time the vaccine is offered”, she maintained.
A drop in the number of polio cases in the country was an indication that the polio eradication drives have actually started to show the required results, said the health officials
They stressed that the national anti-polio programme was on the right track and fast reaching its goal of making Pakistan a polio-free country.