Eradicating polio

The World Health Organisation thinks that over 200,000 Pakistani children have missed their polio vaccinations.


Letter February 06, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The lack of proper governance and accountability, together with local groups opposing vaccination, are jeopardising efforts to rid the country of this disease.

In most countries, polio is now a memory. The developed world had largely eliminated it by the 1970s and many poor countries soon followed suit. Three decades ago, the world saw an estimated 400,000 polio cases a year. Thanks to a cheap and effective vaccine, administered by two drops into a child’s mouth and washed down with dollops of public and private money, the annual number of cases worldwide is approximately 1,000. The government is again asking religious scholars to help educate people who refuse to allow their children to receive the oral polio vaccine.

The World Health Organisation thinks that over 200,000 Pakistani children have missed their polio vaccinations in the past couple of years. The worst-affected areas are Balochistan and Fata — both regions have issues of law and order. Southern Sindh also has seen several cases and it was perhaps linked to the fact that in the past few years it has been ravaged by floods at least twice.

So, while the rest of the world is moving forward on this very important public health issue, we seem to be going backward. Who is to be blamed for this? The government or society?

Anam Hayat

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.

COMMENTS (1)

Dr Saifur Rehman | 9 years ago | Reply

Various research groups of epidemiologists believe that religious opposition by Muslim fundamentalists is a major factor in the failure of immunization programs against polio in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This religious conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is one of the biggest hindrances to effective polio vaccination. Epidemiologists have detected transmission of wild poliovirus from polio-endemic districts in Afghanistan, most of which are located in the southern region of this country bordering Pakistan, to tribal areas of Pakistan. This transmission has resulted in new cases of polio in previously polio-free districts. The local Taliban have issued fatwas denouncing vaccination as an American ploy to sterilize Muslim populations. Another common superstition spread by extremists is that vaccination is an attempt to avert the will of Allah. The Taliban have assassinated vaccination officials, including Abdul Ghani Marwat, who was the head of the government’s vaccination campaign in Bajaur Agency in the Pakistani tribal areas, on his way back from meeting a religious cleric. Over the past year, several kidnappings and beatings of vaccinators have been reported.

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