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Why Polio Continues to Be a Health Risk in Pakistan

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Syracadil was only 11 months old when infected with poliovirus. She currently lives in the city of Rawalpinidi near the capital Islamabad.

Kadir told DW that when they were children, all but her siblings received the polio vaccine. Apparently, it was the case of parental negligence that caused her to become infected with a crippled illness.

Last month, the Independent African Regional Certification Commission (ARCC) for Polio Eradication officially declared that 47 countries in the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) Africa region were virus-free and had not been reported for four years. ..

Polio almost eradicated by vaccine

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“This is an important milestone for Africa. Future generations of African children can now live free from wild polio,” said Dr. Matsuhidi Somoeti, WHO Africa Regional Director.

read more: Eradication of polio in Africa points out future challenges

Currently, the disease is found only in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the latter struggling to cope with the surge in cases over the past few months. South Asian countries with a majority of Muslims have registered 68 polio cases since the beginning of this year.

The disease mainly affects children under the age of 5, and can infect the spinal cord and cause paralysis.

Campaigns hampered by militants

Pakistan launched its first national polio eradication campaign in 1994. At that time, the country recorded an average of 20,000 polio cases each year. By 2004, 10 years after the campaign started, the number of cases in Japan had decreased to 30 per year. Health experts have called it a major achievement.

However, the campaign lost momentum after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the deteriorating security situation of several years after the US invasion of Afghanistan. The US-led war on terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region made it difficult for authorities to focus on polio eradication.

“By the mid-2000s, the security situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region had hit the campaign hard,” Dr. Lana Sahdar, national coordinator of Pakistan’s National Emergency Action Center (NEOC), told DW.

read more: Pakistan hits record polio in the Taliban threat

The Taliban claims that the polio eradication campaign is being used by the West as a cover for spies. They argue that the motive is similar to the hepatitis vaccination program run by Pakistani imprisoned doctor Shakir Afridi, who allegedly helped the CIA find al-Qaeda’s former head Osama bin Laden. ing. Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces in Abbottabad’s hideout in May 2011.

Islamic extremists regularly carry out violent attacks on anti-polio workers in northwestern Pakistan.

Policy issues

In addition to armed groups, experts have also blamed the flawed government policy for polio’s survival in Pakistan.

Dr. Adnan Khan, an Islamabad-based infectious disease and public health researcher, says bad governance is one of the reasons behind the failure of Pakistan’s polio eradication program.

“Polio campaigns are basically part of a mop-up strategy. They are used to fill the gap left by routine immunization (the vaccine given to children at birth), but in Pakistan, door-to-door polio Campaigns always spend time and resources as follows, “compared to routine immunization,” Kahn told DW, where field teams often cannot cover the entire population of a particular area, resulting in some. He added that children will be excluded.

Health officials complain that many people in Pakistan do not want their children to be vaccinated at birth.

The government says it has adopted a new strategy to tackle the polio threat in collaboration with local communities and religious leaders. According to Dr. Suffder, this strategy was effective in reducing polio cases to eight in 2017 and twelve in 2018.

However, the situation has changed since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018. The number of proceedings in 2019 increased from 12 in the previous year to 148.

COVID-19 has priority

Hope to lower the number in 2020 was overwhelmed by the start of the coronavirus crisis in March. Experts see more polio cases in the coming months as Pakistan suspends national polio campaigns from April to July to focus on efforts to curb COVID-19 I’m afraid there is a possibility.

Arsan Ali, an official in charge of the polio eradication program in the southern port city of Karachi, told DW in May that his preventive contact activities were not well accepted during the pandemic. ..

“People aren’t tolerating us because of the change in my role and the fear that we are potential carriers of the coronavirus for door-to-door work,” he said.

In response to a survey on the suspension of vaccine campaigns in Pakistan, GPEI spokesperson Sona Bari told DW what WHO said: “Services such as vaccination are suffering from the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system. I have pointed out several times. “

Future outlook

A national polio eradication campaign resumed last month. Authorities say about 40 million children across Pakistan will be vaccinated by December.

“The National Emergency Surgery Center plans to invest in regular immunization and health and nutrition programs for vulnerable children in the target area. We look forward to making progress in 2021,” said Safdar. Said the doctor.

But Dr. Cahn says it would be difficult to identify the problematic area and contain the virus infection without vaccinating everyone there, including adults.

read more: How far will Pakistan go to eradicate polio?

Author: Beanish Javed

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