Striving for the polio-free Pakistan

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There is no denying that successive government in Pakistan worked hard on the polio eradication front which can be gauged from the continued polio drives across the country with regular intervals in collaborative efforts of the UN and other donor agencies during the tenure of every regime, yet polio-free Pakistan is a distant dream.

In fact, polio eradication is one issue, which has attracted equal attention from successive governments and every government delivered on this front. The current set-up is also focused on this front which can be gauged from the latest campaign, launched by the PM Shahbaz at PM House on Wednesday.

The four-day long vaccination campaign is set to be carried out from May 23 to 27 across the country, with special focus on the southern KP, and the goal is to administer polio drops to approximately 43.3 million children under the age of five.

It’s is a mega drive and as many as a huge polio workforce consisting of 340,000 health workers will administer polio drops to the targeted children at the doorsteps across the country. Another feature of this drive is that children will also get a supplementary dose of Vitamin A drops simultaneously during this drive and it will focus on children up to six years of age.

It is a matter of real concern that parents in high-risk areas, particularly those ordering Afghanistan are still deep in their wrong notions, considering polio drops to be aimed at population control by inoculating their children due to widespread belief and propaganda by some extremist forces. That’s why the parents in far flung areas which are under the influence of the religious extremists either hide their children during the Polio campaigns or straight away refuse the polio teams to give life-saving vaccines to their children. These long-existing misconceptions and wrong notions nurtured by a section of the parents need to be done away with.

The irony is that not only the less-educated, but some enlightened parents have also been seen openly advocating against the vaccines whether it is the polio vaccine or corona etc. In fact, there exists a mindset which needs to be changed.

Well, there is nothing to cheer about the polio control situation right now in the country as three more cases have reported from the tribal belt of Waziristan where people pay little to no heed to advice from concerned quarters on immunizing their children against the deadly virus, which mostly affects the children under five years of age.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan was very close to achieve the polio-free status as no case of wild polio was reported in the country during the last fifteen months. However, last month as many as three cases resurfaced in Waziristan and in the latest case a boy has been totally crippled and paralyzed by the deadly virus.

During the 2021, the country witnessed just a single case of polio in Balochistan province, and needed one last mega push to totally wipe out the disease from the country, but unfortunately that could not become a reality as southern KP seems to be paving way to this deadly virus once again. Not only Waziristan, but environmental samples from Bannu district of KP, have also been confirmed.

And it seems that if immediate efforts were not ensured, we will be back to square one on the polio front, which will be a huge loss for the country. We have already been jolted by a big set-up in the form of re-surfacing of the polio cases in the country after fifteen months gap, and with further cases, things will be out of control.

To be very specific, we are already faced with a painful set-back as the current year did not augur well for anti-polio efforts.

Desperate efforts are required to thwart this uptrend, otherwise the worst will be upon us in a matter of months.

Three cases in a short span of less than a month and that too from a single place speak volume of gravity of the situation.

One is really saddened by the polio cases. Just imgine, the UN, and other NGOs working for the eradication of polio burden have long been focused on wipig out this disease and it is just two countries of the world i.e., Pakistan and Afghanistan which nullify the entire efforts.

It is not that the federal and provincial governments and district management are not working on this front. In fact, they are making concerted efforts to address the challenges of persistently missed children, but the parental refusals together with fake finger marking during the drives nullify the government and the NGOs efforts.

Afghanistan’s situation is also contributing to the disease situation and that’s why one is fearing the spread of poliovirus in other parts of Pakistan in areas which borders Afghanistan from across the porous border.

One would make appeal to all parents to at least have mercy on their children and let the polio teams administer polio vaccine to their children instead of hiding them from the polio teams during this upcoming vaccination drive.

And last but not the least, our entire society needs to work for convincing those who are against the polio campaigns.  Entire civil society, including the various ethnic groups and communities, religious scholars, tribal Sardars, local influencers, heath experts and other medical associations, print, electronic and the social media platform as also the NGOs and our celebrities must all help the polio teams to let them reach each and every child so that our country is free from this deadly virus.

If each one of us is supportive of vaccination, then the efforts t to attain a polio free Pakistan can be reached.