QUETTA: The World Health Organization (WHO) said there would be a global polio emergency in Pakistan in three months, if health workers failed to improve their performance in eradicating the virus from the country. Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are still registering cases of the virus in children
The organisation’s team leader in Pakistan Dr Wahab Alanesi, expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of anti-polio campaigners, media, politicians and officials. Addressing journalists at a meeting organised by UNICEF and the government of Balochistan, he said as many as 14 cases of polio were reported in Pakistan, five from Fata, four from K-P, two each from Sindh and Balochistan, while the virus was detected in a child in Punjab. There are 400,000 children at risk of being infected in three districts of Balochistan.
“Pakistan is among the three countries alongside Nigeria and Afghanistan that had failed to achieve their its set target for the eradication of the polio virus in 2012. Though only two cases have been reported, Balochistan remains at high risk because it had 73 cases in 2011. Most cases are reported because the medical teams have not reached those areas,” Alanesi told reporters.
The global polio emergency will be declared in Pakistan if performance regarding eradication of the polio virus is not improved in three months, he said. “It will tarnish the image of the country because a global emergency means that Pakistanis will face travel restrictions across the globe,” he declared, adding that cases were being reported in Quetta, Pishin and Qila Abdullah. “These three districts have jeopardised the neighbouring ones because the virus is being detected in such areas where no cases were reported earlier. The media is not playing its due role either which is why the situation is alarming in Balochistan,” Alanesi claimed.
Giving his presentation on Balochistan, he added that there had been a dramatic polio rise in 2011, as 73 cases were reported in a single year, which was nearly equal to all the cases reported from 2005 to 2010. “Sixteen per cent are due to refusals of families to get their children treated and 33% due to the unavailability of children in the areas where polio teams visited. Ironically, 43% was down to the poor performance of the teams,” he lamented.
He urged that strict action must be taken against officials and health workers for being negligent. He also called on those responsible to be held accountable and monitored to achieve the goal of Pakistan being polio-free by the end of this year.
Dr Yusuf Bezinjo of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation said that most of the cases were reported in Pashtun dominated areas, while a few children contracted the virus in Baloch areas. “Religious scholars and local leaders in the Pashtun areas must come forward and spread awareness about this curable disease,” he remarked.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27, 2012.