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EDITORIAL: Since its inception nearly three decades ago, the Polio Eradication Programme in Pakistan has made significant gains, but reaching the finishing line remains an elusive goal. Its efforts have had ups and downs.

The number of the reported number of children afflicted by this debilitating disease caused by Wild Poliovirus Type-1 (WPV1) was 147 in 2019; 84 in 2020; just one in 2021; 20 in 2022; and six in 2023.

On Thursday, the National Institute of Health announced this year’s first case from Dera Bugti in Balochistan where both legs of a 30-month-old boy have been paralysed by Wild Poliovirus Type-1 (WPVI) — a sad reminder that this virus afflicting children remains endemic in this country.

Thousands of health workers have regularly been carrying out vaccination drives in the face of resistance by extremist elements who see it as a Western conspiracy to control Muslim population by sterilising children. More than 100 vaccinators and their police escorts have lost their lives in the line of duty.

It is no coincidence therefore that the outbreaks of the disease have been high in the extremists-infested areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. There have been instances, nevertheless, of vaccinators putting the mandatory ink mark on the little fingers of children without administering them polio drops out of fear or a shared concern that the vaccination caused sterility.

However, these and the other two provinces where the immunisation coverage is high are not free from it either, mainly because of ineffective supervision of vaccination teams. Consequently, the information about coverage level has also been misleading.

As the head of the Polio Eradication Programme in Punjab and coordinator of the Emergency who coordinates the Emergency Operations Centre, Khizer Afzaal, rightly averred at a recent meeting with representative of district health authorities, “while the world watches us closely and waits for polio eradication, the virus continues to be detected in major cities”, found in environmental samples taken from Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Okara, Kasur, Rajanpur, and some union councils of Rahim Yar Khan. Warning the participants that “laidback approach will not be tolerated”, he urged district health officials to take a personal interest in vaccination campaigns.

Earlier this year, the Regional Reference Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, signalling negativity reported detecting WPV1 in 30 sewage samples collected from Karachi, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Sukkur, Quetta, Chaman, Pishin, Kech, Khuzsdar, Peshawar, Dera Ghazi Khan, Lahore and Rawalpindi. This underscores the need for all provincial governments to get their act together and ensure that every child receives vaccination drops.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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