Pakistan has again lost the battle against polio this year with 72 cases reported in the country so far, surpassing Nigeria which reported 50 cases and Afghanistan where only nine cases surfaced.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), last week Pakistan reported six polio cases while Afghanistan and Nigeria did not report any. Comparing the number of polio cases reported last year in Pakistan which were 57 with this year’s 72, it is clear that despite the tall claims made by the government, the battle is far from over. It’s a fact that when polio virus surfaces in one country, no other country across the globe is safe.
Considering the current scenario, efforts were made to make the last national anti-polio drive of 2013, held from November 18 to 20, a success. During the campaign, 33.1 million children were vaccinated, while 2.34 million were missed for reasons other than parental refusals. Of these, 622, 354 were reported from Balochistan, 501,870 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), 477,329 in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) this includes 260,000 from North and South Waziristan, 126,380 from Punjab, 609,084 from Sindh, 2,895 from Islamabad, 438 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and 217 from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
Polio teams recorded 47,099 parental refusals nationwide, of these, 24,968 were from K-P, 14,978 from Sindh, 5,068 from Balochistan, 889 from Fata, 910 from Punjab, 251 from Islamabad, 32 from AJK and 3 from G-B.
“We’re moving forward but we’re facing challenges,” said WHO Polio Eradication chief Dr Elias Durry. While talking to The Express Tribune, he said for Pakistan the inaccessibility of polio teams in Fata is one of the major hurdles in stopping polio virus transmission in the country. Talking about the number of children missed in Balochistan, he said so far no case has been reported from the province but even if a single child is missed, he will be susceptible to the virus. He was of the view that Pakistan still had a chance to fight against polio and achieve the set target but it required commitment and quality anti-polio drives.
Chief of the Prime Minister’s Polio Cell Dr Safdar Rana said polio teams faced inaccessibility issues even in low-risk areas from where cases have been reported this year, adding to the challenges that the country is contending with in its fight against polio. “This is because of immunity gap that exists in the community.”
Rana said that there is a need to improve the quality of polio campaigns and ensure that not even a single child under age of five years is missed. “December to April, a low transmission period for polio virus, is a time to do or die for Pakistan. This provides an opportunity to curtail the polio virus transmission by carrying out high quality anti-polio drives throughout the country.” The best possible solution to inaccessibility issues is negotiation with people who oppose the anti-polio drive as it has now become a political issue, he stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2013.