Combating polio: Fund shortage, red-tapism are major hurdles

Participants at an briefing session discuss challenges in fighting polio effectively.

Sehrish Wasif January 02, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, one of only four countries where polio still exists, has a long way to go in its battle against the crippling disease, agreed participants of a briefing session held here on Friday.

Inadequate human resources, slow release of funds, inequitable distribution and irregular vaccine are the key challenges in eradicating polio from the country, said Dr Bosan, National Progamme Manager of Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) while addressing the session organised by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Transparency (PILDAT).

Faisal Karim Kundi, Deputy Speaker National Assembly, and Azhar Abid Raza, Health Specialist UNICE, were joined by 20 parliamentarians on the occasion.

According to Dr Bosan, about 86 polio cases were reported in the country in 2009 which increased to 140 in 2010, 71 of which were reported from Fata, 26 from Sindh, 25 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 11 from Balochistan and 7 from Punjab.

He said, “Polio can only be eradicated from the country if all the districts ensure 95 per cent coverage of its vaccination, which is currently missing.”

He put the cost of vaccination at $24.51 per child and the cost of campaign at $0.34 per child.

The participants expressed grave concern over the quality of vaccine and reproached the lack of monitoring and coordination between the Ministry of Health and various vaccination providers.

A major portion of the population goes unnoticed because vaccinators cannot access remote areas.  The participants expressed their dissatisfaction over the incentives, allowances and service structures in health departments.

According to Pildat, only 47 per cent of children aged 12-23 months had received the prescribed vaccines.

Vaccination coverage is higher in urban than rural areas. The provincial variation in vaccination coverage is significant, ranging from 35 per cent in Balochistan to 53 per cent in Punjab.

Currently, 15 per cent of the deaths of children under 5 years of age contributes to 50 per cent of total mortality in Pakistan. This is alarmingly high for a country where the survival rate of newborns stands at 94 per 1000 live births.

Kundi chided the parliamentarians for not doing enough for polio’s eradication and stressed the importance of their involvement. He also observed, “We cannot campaign in Fata in the foreseeable future, the support and coordination of which is crucial in making Pakistan a polio free country in 2011.”

While concluding the session, Fozia Ejaz, MNA, said that awareness-raising among the public is the most important aspect in a vaccination campaign, which has become difficult without a local body system in place.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2011.

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