RAWALPINDI: In a major victory for health officials in Rawalpindi, sewerage samples from the densely populated Union Council Dhoke Dalal have returned negative for the presence of the polio virus for the first time in nearly three years.
This is only the second time in a year that any union council in the city has returned negative for the polio virus in a year, with Dhoke Syedan returning a negative test for poliovirus in sewerage samples last October.
District Health Officer Dr Naveed said that Dhoke Dalal had been returning a positive result of sewerage and environmental sample tests for the past three years, even in the tests conducted by third-parties.
As a result, it had become the focus of health authorities in the city who conducted some 20 anti-polio drives in the area over the past two years while they consistently had at least 30-45 refusal cases.
Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Ali Randhawa was told that in all the five tehsils of the district, including Gujjar Khan, Rawalpindi Cantonment, Rawalpindi City, Rawalpindi Rural and Taxila, they had managed to vaccinate some 735,891 children. In previous anti-polio campaigns, some 117,218 children were left out. However, these were reduced to just 9,172 children in the recent anti-polio drive.
Moreover, the number of parents who had refused polio vaccination for their children had also dropped from 3,102 to just 685.
Randhawa welcomed this news and stressed to focus on non-attendant children and directed to conduct another anti-polio drive from April 22 in the district which should aim to complete its target fully.
Meanwhile the government has decided to administer polio vaccinations to children up to 10 years of age in its next campaign.
The previous age limit for administration of polio drops was five years. The decision has been taken in light of a polio case that surfaced last week, after which authorities decided to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against polio.
Polio drops will be administered to all children coming in from Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) and Afghanistan on a priority basis. The polio workers will also go to private and government schools to administer the polio fighting vaccine.
Moreover, the district campaign against measles, small pox, whooping coughs and tetanus will continue on till February 16. The vaccination teams have also been directed to administer polio drops during the ongoing campaign.
The authorities have also taken serious notice against families declining the provision polio drops for their children. Authorities have advised the workers to persuade such families through all possible means. If unsuccessful, the authorities may take serious against parents who decline the vaccine for their children.
In February some 2,200 polio-refusal cases came forward during the ongoing polio drive in Rawalpindi district. Further, some 16 Union Councils (UCs) will be specially focused during the ongoing polio drive in Rawalpindi district while it will end on February 28. Moreover, teams from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have expressed satisfaction whereas they have commenced the quality assessment of the campaign in the specially focused 16 UCs. The Chief Executive of District Health Authority, Dr. Muhammad Rashid, said the anti-polio campaign in sensitive union councils where wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samplings will continue till the end of February in which children up to 10 years of age will be vaccinated.
Earlier this year the fight against polio suffered another setback as the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme detected poliovirus in the sewage of 10 cities during the last month. According to results shared by the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), the extensive environmental surveillance has detected the presence of poliovirus in sewage samples collected from Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Sukkur, Killa Abdullah, Quetta, Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar and South Waziristan during January.
Considering the associated risks, the country programme has urged parents to ensure immunization of all children under the age of five years during the polio campaigns.
“Polio eradication is a delicate time race between us (parents and health-care workers) and a deadly poliovirus. We have to collectively ensure that we reach all children with multiple doses of vaccination before the virus reach unprotected children,” remarked NEOC Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar.
He said that winter months provide the best chance to tackle the disease as it provides the advantage of being the low transmission season. “The programme is focusing on children who miss vaccination because of any reason and let the virus survive no longer,” Dr Safdar added.
Pakistan has already had confirmed cases of the virus in the new year, with a 3-month old baby in Hangu paralysed due to poliovirus in the sewage of South Waziristan, while another infant contracted the virus in Lahore.
“It is a reminder to everyone that presence of poliovirus in the sewage of these towns can cause life-long paralysis, especially if the child is not repeatedly vaccinated, in the same town or in a distant town due to the frequent population movement. I can’t emphasize enough how critically important it is to ensure that each and every child is vaccinated,” said Babar Atta, the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2019.