Pakistan to vaccinate millions in new anti-polio drive
Pakistan will launch a three-day anti-polio campaign from July 10 to save millions of children in the country from the life-long crippling virus, a senior health ministry official told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
Polio had been eradicated from most parts of the world until a few years ago but now it was reemerging in some countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Congo where health services largely remain poor.
Armed assailants belonging to militant groups have frequently targeted polio vaccinators and their security detail in several parts of Pakistan; the groups see the anti-polio campaigns are part of an elaborate anti-Muslim and Western conspiracy, and often issue death threats to vaccinators, many of whom are women, for administrating the vital vaccines to children.
In April 2016, assailants gunned down seven policemen who were providing security to polio vaccinators in the southern port city of Karachi. A doctor involved in the anti-polio campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, who wished to stay anonymous due to security concerns, said an estimated 80 people associated with the drive have been killed across Pakistan since December 2012.
Ministry of National Health Secretary Muhammad Ayub Sheikh said the new anti-polio campaign in Pakistan would be carried out in two phases; the first phase will cover the capital, Islamabad, Rawalpindi city, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir; the second phase will be between July 17 and July 20 in high-risk polio districts of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan provinces.
"We will vaccinate 10.44 million children under the age of five during this campaign in 73 districts; around 75,000 workers would take part in this campaign to administer anti-polio vaccine to children," Sheikh said.
He said Pakistan had been very successful in the fight against polio, bringing the cases down from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, and then 20 in 2016; this year so far, only two polio cases have been detected in the country.
Pakistan, however, remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the World Health Organization. In 2014, WHO made it mandatory for all people traveling from Pakistan to carry a polio vaccination certificate.
According to the health organization, 37 cases were recorded worldwide in 2016 in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The four cases in Nigeria were a resurgence after two year of free polio while Pakistan and Afghanistan have made significant progress in recent years.
In June, WHO confirmed that two polio cases had been detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo.