'Pakistan might be world's last remaining country with polio'

Without mass vaccination, cases could go into hundreds
Aug 31, 2020
Polio worker giving polio drops to children in Nazimabad. Photo: Online
Polio worker giving polio drops to children in Nazimabad. Photo: Online

Pakistan might be the last remaining country with polio in the world warns the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s 18th report.

This year (2020) Pakistan won’t be interrupting poliovirus circulation for good, reads the first line for the country’s anti-polio efforts.

“If no mass vaccination activities take place, there will be many more polio cases than were expected, pre-COVID-19, by the end of the year. The numbers could go into hundreds.”

This year the country has already reported 65 cases of wild polio virus, second highest in the last five years, according to the Pakistan Polio Programme. Last year was the worst for polio with 147 cases recorded.

But these statistics don’t include the number of vaccine-derived polio cases, which stand at 52 this year, highest in five years.

“The surge in vaccine-derived polio cases in Pakistan is shocking,” says the IMB. They constitute almost a third of the world’s cVDPV cases.

The coronavirus pandemic has also disrupted the programme and reversed gains made. All immunisation activities were halted in March. They were resumed on July 20.

During the large gap, the virus was allowed to circulate uncontrolled. The IMB says there are four major reasons behind the surge in cases: a lack of political unity, dysfunctional teamwork, mistrustful communities and poor technical performance.

The report adds the outbreaks in provinces have gotten worse. Circulation of wild poliovirus hasn't stopped in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and health officials have also not been able to stop transmission in Punjab's Lahore.

In Karachi, the programme suffers from ineffective management as the Sindh government has been unable to find medical officers to lead the polio response in high-risk union councils.

Whereas in Balochistan, gaps in the quality of polio campaign in Quetta and vaccine refusals have plagued the response.

Pakistan's polio programme needs transformational change to enable the country to not just control, but also eradicate the virus, says the report.

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