Poor routine immunization dampens polio eradication efforts

Published: June 4, 2017
Polio campaign. PHOTO: REUTERS

Polio campaign. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has achieved remarkable improvement in its fight against polio over the last couple of years, but does not seem to sustain the achievement as its coverage of routine immunisation across the country, except in Punjab, appears to be missing the mark.

According to a latest survey, the coverage of routine vaccination assessed in 11 high-risk districts across Pakistan turned out to be very alarming and below satisfactory level.

The joint survey carried out by the national polio eradication programme and National Expanded Programme on Immunisation divides the coverage of routine immunisation zone-wise. In Karachi and Peshawar it was reported around 60 per cent; in Khyber Agency and Quetta around 25 per cent and in Pishin and Killa Abdullah it was below 20 per cent. The coverage in Punjab was above satisfactory level at 80 per cent.

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The findings of the survey have without a doubt exposed the empty claims of the government, regarding improvement in child health in the country.

Due to the poor coverage of routine immunisation, children are suffering and dying from vaccine preventable disease.

According to the National Institute of Health’s weekly epidemiological report (May 22-28), around 33 cases of measles have been reported from Orakzai Agency alone.

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Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report for the first quarter of 2017 indicates 1,650 cases of measles reported from Pakistan from January 1 till March 31 this year in low season, otherwise number of cases would have doubled or tripled.

Experts believe that without improving the coverage of routine immunisation, Pakistan cannot eradicate polio from the country.

“Poor coverage of routine immunisation is a major threat to the overall efforts made by the national polio eradication programme to make Pakistan a polio-free country and is also putting lives of children under the age of five at risk,” said an official of the Ministry of National Health Service, Regulation and Coordination, who wished not to be named.

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The official said, “Pakistan is getting hefty funding for improving routine coverage of immunisation, but still the results are below satisfactory and worrisome.

The PC-1 of the Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI) is worth Rs143 billion, meanwhile the provinces have their separate PC-1s, said the official, adding that Pakistan is also receiving $1.2 billion annually from Gavi – an international organisation – which is part of a global Vaccine Alliance for EPI.

It is estimated that every year in Pakistan 600,000 children under the age of five die from vaccine preventable diseases out of which 50 per cent could easily be saved through proper routine immunisation.

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International donors and development partners pledged continued support in recognition of Pakistan’s progress towards polio eradication

Meanwhile, highly appreciating Pakistan’s progress towards ‘zero polio’, the international donors and development partners vowed to stand with Pakistan to eradicate the deadly poliovirus from Pakistan and the rest of the world. The pledge was reiterated during the regular quarterly briefing to the donor community held at the National Emergency Operations Centre.

After recording the lowest-ever 20 polio cases in 2016, the programme has successfully maintained the momentum in 2017 so far which is evident from the fact that only two cases have been reported as compared with 11 cases reported by this date in 2016.

FATA polio virus-free so far this year

Global Polio Eradication Initiative has helped the world in reducing the yearly polio cases from 365,000 to only five in 2017 so far. Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan is one of the three remaining polio endemic countries of the world.

While talking to The Express Tribune, National Coordinator for Polio Eradication Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar said, “The gains in terms of polio eradication are significant as assessed recently by the TAG and IMB. However to achieve, maintain and sustain the progress towards zero polio, there is a need to cover high-risk mobile populations and improve routine immunisation all across the country.”

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