Polio alarm bells

Published: October 23, 2013
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The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 when the wild poliovirus (WPV) was endemic in close to 125 countries with more than 350,000 children paralysed annually. In 2013, polio remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, which so far have recorded 102 cases this year.

Polio is unique in that it is preventable but not curable. Effective vaccines prove that it can indeed be eradicated in our lifetimes. Through concerted efforts, WPV2 (wild poliovirus type 1) was eradicated in 1999. WPV1 cases remain widespread (causing one case in every 200 infections). While WPV3 cases are rare (one case in every 2,000 infections), they are much more hostile and difficult to identify. In Asia, the last WPV3 case was recorded from Khyber Agency, Fata, on April 18, 2012.

So far, 46 cases of WPV1 have been recorded in Pakistan with 34 cases in Fata, seven in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), two in Punjab and three in Sindh as compared with 50 cases recorded over the same time period last year. In 2006, the polio count for Pakistan stood at 28: no small feat for a country that was already battling a myriad of other crises. However, in 2012, Pakistan recorded 58 cases.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s strategy to hunt down Osama bin Laden under the guise of a vaccination campaign dealt a serious setback to polio eradication campaigns in Pakistan. Exacerbating this problem is the Taliban stance deeming the vaccination un-Islamic, a tool of sterilisation or simply a Western plot to kill children. A negative and suspicious public perception arising out of these compounding factors has been the single most harmful deterrent to the polio campaign. In spot campaigns in September 2013, 65,947 families refused the polio vaccine as compared to 45,112 in September 2012.

Fata, Peshawar, Gadap Town (Karachi) and Quetta remain the four major poliovirus reservoirs. The ban on polio campaigns in Waziristan since June 2012 has led to more than 200,000 missed children. The K-P government, already struggling with poor management, is unable to accord due attention to polio vaccination in Peshawar. Furthermore, the security threat to polio workers and the resulting low morale in the field severely hampers anti-polio efforts.

Exorbitant sums of money flowing into the country to stamp out polio hint at the global community’s desperate need to take ownership of eradicating the disease. Global health funding in Pakistan needs to be spent efficiently but more than that, a strong degree of accountability and transparency must be introduced in government administrations to address inadequacies and monitor funding down to the grassroots level.

Correcting the negative perception, reaching out to religious leaders to create awareness and involving the army in health efforts remain imperative. While these have already been conducted, with limited success, a cohesive and strong political will can yield tangible results if exercised correctly. If left unchecked, Pakistan’s story could be an unfortunate one that it simply cannot afford.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Polio.pk
    Oct 24, 2013 - 12:19AM

    Three more cases were reported today, taking the total to 49. Quetta is not a reservoir, it’s Quetta, Killa Abdullah and Pishin collectively, known as the Quetta Block that is the reservoir. The last paragraph just says it all, hitting the nail on the head.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Oct 24, 2013 - 12:25AM

    The result of polio eradication failure in Pakistan will be evident when the green passport becomes no longer be acceptable by other countries!

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  • Rex Minor
    Oct 24, 2013 - 4:08AM

    The subject should usualy be dealt with by those who are in the medical profession and not by the pharma industry, politicians or the journalists. Nevertheless the journalist author has done a good job with statistics though ignored its spread in Israel now and the fact that it could endanger the population of other countries if the virus is carried over inadvetently by the foreigners operating in Afghanistan. The Talibans also know that some one from within or near their territory is sending the signals to direct drone attacks on their families causing casualties to their old parents, women and children. Amnesty International reports even accused the NATO trrops providing such information.

    This is the key factor for the failure of the humane endeavour to eradicate the diesease.

    Rex Minor

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  • csmann
    Oct 24, 2013 - 10:02AM

    @Rex Minor:
    The key factor is the backward mentality of religious figures,and Taliban.And people like Hamid Zaid who have been campaigning against its use for years. Taliban need just any excuse to justify their murderous activity.Wont spare even the kids.One can only imagine the consequences if they come to rule over Pakistan. There will be epidemics of many preventable illnesses in the country,and thousands of crippled children every year.

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  • M. Emad
    Oct 24, 2013 - 4:10PM

    The ‘P‘ in Pakistan now stands for ‘Polio’. Pakistan (and its bodering Afghan areas) is the only country with hundreds of Polio children. Important to note that almost no Polio case in Punjab province.

    The main culprit is the ‘Polio like handicapped stratetigic thinking’ of Pakistani top defence planners.

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  • overseas pakistani
    Oct 24, 2013 - 4:24PM

    @ Rex Minor – In Israel the virus was found in sewers recently after a gap of many years. No human cases occur. Can you imagine that? They monitor their sewers for the polio virus.

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  • Jazzi
    Oct 24, 2013 - 6:58PM

    There are much more severe disease dwell in this unfortunate country ,which need to be eliminated then polio.

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  • Javelin
    Oct 24, 2013 - 9:22PM

    @overseas pakistani:
    Can you imagine that? They monitor their sewers for the polio virus.
    I can well imagine that. They have a highly intelligent population and have exceled in science and for a country this small have more Nobel price winners per square mile than most countries. Even though Israel is a country based on religion, they do not spend their time and energy in religious “Jihad” and conversion of other religions.

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  • Rex Minor
    Oct 25, 2013 - 1:10AM

    @overseas pakistani:
    Perhaps the polio vaccine should be thrown in Pakistan sewage as well instead of jabbing the poor healthy children in the Taliban territory.

    @Javelin:

    Who wouldn’t keep the land clean and tidy if one is granted the lease for the land of the Palestinians without any payment?

    Rex Minor

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  • numbersnumbers
    Oct 25, 2013 - 11:34AM

    @Rex Minor:
    To bad you don’t know that the polio vaccine is taken orally, so no “jabbing” needle is required!
    BTW, your comment makes one think that you are against vaccinating Pakistani children against this horribly crippling disease!

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  • Rex Minor
    Oct 25, 2013 - 5:38PM

    @numbersnumbers:

    You said itSir! Would you allow preventive medicine being given to your child orally by your enemy? I wouln’t!

    Rex Minor

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  • numbersnumbers
    Oct 25, 2013 - 10:04PM

    @Rex Minor:
    So @Rex Minor is in favor of Pakistani children being cripple for life by Polio!

    Recommend

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