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EDITORIAL: Just as Pakistan seemed to have won the battle against poliovirus, the first case of the debilitating disease surfaced in North Waziristan last Friday where wild poliovirus had paralyzed a 15-month-old boy.

Earlier on April 9, the National Polio Laboratory at the National Institute of Health had detected type-1 wild poliovirus in an environmental sample collected from Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Also, late last year positive virus was found in the environmental samples fetched from South Waziristan. The last polio case, however, was reported in January of 2021 from Qila Abdullah in Balochistan.

Pakistan has remained free of the virus since January of last year, i.e., for 15 months, thanks to the undaunted efforts of some 380,000 vaccinators and their police escorts in the face of violent resistance in certain area, with many losing their lives. Experts warn that in order to completely eradicate the disease a country must be polio-free for three consecutive years. This means there is no room for complacency for the next three years.

There obviously is need for constant vigilance. As the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei, and World Health Organisation (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Ahmed Al-Mandhari recommended after their joint visit to this country last December, Pakistan should reinforce its impressive progress achieved in reducing the number of missed children and vaccine refusals, and continue targeting high risk areas, particularly southern KP and those along the border with Afghanistan.

Presently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is to chair an emergency meeting of the National Task Force for Polio Eradication. Considering his reputation for hands-on approach in such matters he is expected to give a renewed impetus to the vaccination campaign as well as environmental surveillance for virus detection.

Meanwhile, the Sindh government has decided to launch a fresh vaccination drive in May, and also to administer polio drops, with the help of police and Rangers, to children at bus stops, railway stations, and various toll plazas as families return from different parts of the country after Eid. Surely, health authorities in the other provinces are also alive to the situation and taking necessary measures to eliminate the polio hazard for good.

As acknowledge by relevant international agencies, Pakistan has made significant progress in its fight against poliovirus; it should not be so difficult to cover the last mile. That is a challenge it must meet to ensure no child suffers from the disabling disease, and the country gets rid of the unenviable distinction of being one of the two countries in the entire world where polio virus is endemic.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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