War Against Polio

By Saima Zaman

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For decades, polio was one of the world’s most feared diseases, disabling and crippling millions. Its near eradication has been one of the great achievements of modern medical science. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared polio as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in 2014. Unfortunately, Pakistan is the country along with Afghanistan and Nigeria where the menace of polio still exists. Having achieved the lowest ever case count of 8 in 2017, Pakistan got a setback in 2018 when the polio cases surged again.
In 2019 till now 58 polio cases have been registered in the county. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the most effected province with high number of polio cases. Though Pakistan’s progress towards polio eradication is acknowledged by national and international bodies but there is need to adopt an aggressive approach once again. Polio primarily affects children under five, and is incurable. The virus causes paralysis, sometimes within hours of infection. It often hits the legs and spine, but can also kill victims by immobilising breathing muscles.
Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, an estimated 16 million people have been saved from paralysis, and 1.5 million children from death. On the other hand since the start of the polio eradication programme in Pakistan in 1994, virus cases have been consistently reported along the 2,430km stretch of the border, from main towns and cities to remote villages. Worldwide polio eradication began in 1988. Polio is indeed a tricky disease to tackle.
Most people who contract the virus have very mild symptoms and do not become paralysed. Vaccination seems to be the most efficient method of curbing the disease in areas where polio is still present. In recent years, Pakistan has been able to celebrate a precipitous drop but the situation abruptly changed in this year. Countries that have successfully eradicated the virus made it possible by vaccinating 95% of the target population. Unfortunately Pakistan has been unable to achieve such targets.
According to Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Baba bin atta, Data tells that there are 40 million children under the age of 5 in Pakistan, out of which, approximately 0.3 to 0.4 million children are missed during the vaccination campaigns. This meant that the Pakistan Polio Programme was reaching more than 99% of the total targeted population and should have eradicated the virus many years ago. There is need to introduce some new initiatives in order to hit polio once again with more powerful strategy.
According to the focal person, Pakistan will counter the anti-vaxxer’s campaign which itself is a threat by launching a campaign targeting public perception in November this year. Polio workers in Pakistan are fighting hard to accomplish their job which is indeed the toughest job. The campaign faces many challenges, but perhaps the most pressing is the matter of continuing threats against polio vaccination teams. Misinformation and distrust of immunisation programmes have led some Pakistanis to refuse vaccination.
When it comes to refusal from parents in Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had 58,913 refusal cases that shot up to 739,458 after the vaccine reaction drama four months ago in Peshawar. These include 8,658 hardcore refusals where strong communication skills are needed to convince people that vaccination is a national programme meant to safeguard children against disabilities. Silent refusals, which are not recorded, are big obstacle. We can’t defeat polio without utter cooperation among all stake holders.
The social rejection of the polio eradication campaign in endemic countries challenges an assumption underlying the goal itself: the full compliance of an entire population to a public health programme. Lets join our hands to defeat polio for the future of our children. Adequate funding and the continuation of strong international cooperation will be key to protect the progress, stopping all polio outbreaks, and reaching all children, especially those living in the hardest to reach places on earth, with polio vaccines.

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