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EDITORIAL: On the eve of this year’s October 23 World Polio Day — Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where poliovirus continues to afflict children — interim Federal Health Minister Dr Nadeem Jan led an awareness walk in Islamabad participated by hundreds of people from civil society as well as officials from the health ministry, Polio Eradication programme and its international partners, including UNICEF, WHO, and Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation.

Although Pakistan has made substantial progress since the start of its anti-polio campaign in the mid ‘90s, the last lap to the finishing line requires lots of struggle.

According to a press report, based on an official document, poliovirus was detected in 11 environmental samples collected this month from seven cities including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Bannu, Quetta, Pishin and Chaman, bringing the number of such findings so far this year to 54. Several of them had genetic links to prior detections.

The sample collected from Karachi’s Keamari area, for instance, on October 3 had genetic connection to the one found in Karachi East on August 17. Two recent positive samples collected from Peshawar were related to samples taken earlier from Lahore while the second sample from Pishin district of Balochistan was the same as found earlier in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

This is hardly surprising since people move from one place to another. Detection of poliovirus in environmental samples, however, is not something to be alarmed about. For, as explained by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) the oral vaccination used in this country contains live though weakened poliovirus which can be shed in the stool of vaccinated children, and found in environment samples gathered from various cities’ sewerage.

In fact, adds GPEI, if they remain weak, these poop-bound viruses can actually boost immunity levels in communities with poor sanitation by spreading to unvaccinated children. What is concerning is that four children also have been found to be suffering from this debilitating contagious disease.

Thanks to the courage and resilience of health workers and their police escorts they have kept the vaccination drive on track despite the loss of several lives. Just last August, two policemen accompanying vaccinators were gunned down in Quetta by suspected religious extremists who claim polio vaccination is a Western ploy to keep Muslim population from increasing by sterilising children.

Before that on May 25 three police escorts were wounded in an attack by gunmen on a vaccination team in Mir Dara district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This has gone on despite some prominent religious scholars lending their support to vaccination in media awareness campaigns.

Involvement of local clerics in the worst affected areas, perhaps, could play a more effective role in disabusing these misguide people of their mistaken belief. It can also help if the awareness campaigns include real life examples, like Senator Quratulain Marri who participated in the Islamabad awareness walk and spoke about his own experience of living with after-effects of polio.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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Tariq Qurashi Oct 25, 2023 01:13pm
We are almost there; we should not give up now.
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