The year 2020 will be remembered for the massive challenges it carried along to universal public health and to our lives. Alike other nations around the globe, Pakistan was left with no choice but to emphasize on and address the greatest irresistible and instantaneous requirements of the hour by increasing the best promising response to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The battle against covid is still on; the overall resilience and courage against the pandemic remain exemplary. Government, private sector and as well as civil society stakeholders made huge contributions to the combat against COVID-19. While Pakistan has been commended internationally for magnificently tackling the pandemic, questions have also been elevated as to why Pakistan has been impotent to eliminate Polio so far. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where the wild polio virus remains to impend the health and welfare of children. This highlights the need of earnestness in order to work for eradicating the disease to promote a polio free world. Five out of six regions of the world are wild polio-free. This development is an evidence to the teamwork between health workers, governments and donors around the world, and the coordinating efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), founded in 1988. In Pakistan, the surveillance system estimates an extremely sensitive outcome as in 2020, 84 wild polio cases have been detected from 38 districts of Pakistan. Amidst COVID-19, it signifies 43% decline as compared to 147 cases reported in 2019. However, environmental surveillance does specify extensive existence in different geographical zones of the country. As part of the single epidemiological block, during 2020, Afghanistan also recorded 56 cases of polio in contrast with 29 cases reported in 2019.
Determinations to eradicate polio, as is the case with every health programme, have agonized since the advent of COVID-19. This compounded the challenges we were already facing. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of wild polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan due to insecurity and parents declining to vaccinate their children against the disease. Moreover, there have been several outbreaks of cVDPV, a non-wild form of polio that is harmful to under-immunised communities. While Learning from these challenges, in 2020, the new Programme in Pakistan identified the ways by which it could bring communities along, recover operational performance, and as a result contain the scattering polio virus. An inclusive operational conversion was introduced and has been thoroughly implemented in 2020 to recollect the best performing staff, advance management structures and augment the efficacy of data gathered across the country for decision-making. The revived Programme endorsed Polio eradication as a mutual priority across all political divides and across all segments of the society. This One Team approach was rapidly rejuvenated, and a renewed battle started by conducting two high-quality nationwide campaigns as well as door to door campaigns in three months’ time, before COVID-19 enforced yet another postponement of immunization activities. While the Programme had to be postponed, its assets and abilities were positively diverted to COVID-19 surveillance and response.
When governments and public collectively support polio eradication campaigns and drives, they are not only working towards a future where no family has to live in fear of their child being paralysed by a preventable disease but they are also supporting the whole infrastructure that can defend communities from developing health threats, as we witnessed so mightily with COVID-19. The pandemic has strained countries’ resources. While these are problematic times, we cannot afford to triumph the battle against COVID-19 by permitting other vaccine-preventable diseases to resurge. 2021, offers an exclusive prospect to influence the advances made in 2020 notwithstanding the pandemic. We need to look forward to sustain the high levels of leadership support across the political divide and society sections. We also need to consolidate and further strengthen the eradication programme by changing the structure, better engagement with priority communities, reinforcing indispensable immunization and by carrying unified services to underserved communities.