‘Pakistan stands in the way of a polio-free world’

World Polio Day commemorated in a year when 220 new cases have emerged in the country

Taha Kehar October 26, 2014
‘Pakistan stands in the way of a polio-free world’


Pakistan is the only stumbling block in the way to a polio-free world, said Aziz Memon, the national chairperson for the Pakistan Polio Plus Committee on Friday.

He was speaking at a ceremony organised by Rotary International at Mohatta Palace to commemorate World Polio Day 2014. The event, attended by World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund representatives and Rotary International members, aimed to renew commitment to eliminate the crippling disease.

"Unlike Ebola, there is a vaccine available to fight polio," said Memon, emphasising the need to form a fresh commitment to eliminate the virus in view of the rising number of polio cases from Pakistan.

October 24, celebrated as World Polio Day, marks the birthdate of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. However, the spirit of celebration has been heavily compromised in Pakistan, which has seen 220 polio cases emerge this year.

"As far as the eradication of polio is concerned, Pakistan has become a source of concern for the entire world, since nearly 85 per cent of polio cases originate from here," said Rotary International district governor Shahbaz Qureshi.

Nigeria and Afghanistan are the two other countries where polio is endemic. According to Qureshi, however, the former is likely to become polio-free soon, whereas Afghanistan's experience with polio has largely been a result of cross-border transmissions from Pakistan.

"At this critical stage, the government and medical practitioners need to realise the gravity of the problem and intensify efforts to eradicate the virus," he urged. "The army has been requested to provide security to polio workers and funds are being allocated to the cause, but a serious commitment is needed to make Pakistan a polio-free zone."

Meanwhile, WHO representative Thomas Greene expressed alarm over the country's situation. "This is the highest number of cases reported in Pakistan since 1999," he said, adding that experts should delve into the roots of the problem to find a solution. According to him, the main reason often given for the prevalence of polio here was the absence of accessibility to the vaccine, although he added that this was only a half-truth. "The shortcoming in providing vaccines to children on time has also been a cause for concern."

Another cause given for the spread of polio in the country was the absence of literacy. Faiz Kidwai, the chairperson of Rotary's literacy mission, claimed that most of South Asia had been cleared of polio in 2011. "However, Pakistan, still grappling with polio, made the conscious decision to work towards both education and polio eradication," he explained.

The prime minister's focal person for polio eradication, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, pointed out some of the challenges in administering vaccines to children. "The virus is an invisible enemy that cripples our children," she said, adding that the migration of people from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) to Karachi had contributed to the spread of polio in the metropolis. "Many areas in K-P did not experience vaccination drives for years."

Ali also asserted that the assumption that some conservative people in society were opposed to the administering of polio vaccines was false. She urged medical practitioners, universities and the political leadership to join hands to rid the country of polio.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2014.


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