LAHORE/ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The authorities launched a five-day nationwide polio vaccination drive today to reach 40 million children and eradicate the paralysing and potentially deadly virus in one of the last countries where it is endemic.
According to a statement issued by the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme (PPEP), this is the first nationwide immunisation drive in the country since February after a four-month suspension due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
“The September nationwide polio campaign coincides with the recent news of Africa being certified as polio-free. With this development, Pakistan and Afghanistan are now the only remaining strongholds of the virus in the world,” the statement said.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, that suffers from endemic polio, a childhood virus that can cause paralysis or death.
As many as 73 polio cases have been reported in the country so far this year as compared to 147 cases in 2019 and 12 in 2018. Provincial data for the current year shows that 22 cases each have been reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, 20 from Balochistan, and nine from Punjab.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, in a tweet, urged parents and caregivers to cooperate with polio teams in an effort to rid the country of the debilitating disease.
Nationwide polio vaccination campaign starts today. Aiming to vaccinate 40 million children. A team of 275,000 persons will make this happen. A request to parents and caregivers to cooperate with the teams to work towards a polio free Pakistan
— Faisal Sultan (@fslsltn) September 21, 2020
“With the news of Africa being certified as polio-free, we are also ramping up our efforts to bring us closer to a polio-free Pakistan. We are consistently reviewing our campaign performance and responding to the needs of the communities we interact with in order to improve our outreach and capacity,” he said in a statement.
“Moreover, we are integrating and synergising systems and services across our polio and immunisation programmes to accrue benefits from their respective assets and opportunities and ultimately strengthen the routine immunisation of children,” he added.
Dr Rana Safdar, the coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre of the PPEP, also urged parents with children under the age of five to ensure they are vaccinated.
“This is an opportune moment for parents to make sure that their children are vaccinated against polio. We have made sure that all safety measures for Covid-19 are in place to protect children, their parents and caregivers as well as our vaccinators. The safety and health of our people will always come first,” he said.
A country must have no cases for three consecutive years in order to be considered to have eradicated polio by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The authorities have to contend with extra suspicion of immunisation drives because of the 2011 US special forces raid inside the country that purportedly killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
A doctor was accused of using a fake vaccination campaign to collect DNA samples that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was believed to have been using to verify bin Laden’s identity.