By: Moiz Yasin
Karachi: In Pakistan, around 500,000 children under the age of five die annually. This is close to that of Afghanistan. Despite a national emergency being put into effect, Pakistan is failing miserably in its battle to eradicate polio. A total of 184 cases have been reported as of September 29 and according to the Independent Monitoring Board review, currently taking place in London, the matter may get worse.
The government says their success, with the dozens of annual immunization campaigns run across the country, crucially hinges on the security situation. The Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar in her statement to the board said, “…64 polio teams and police officials guarding them have been killed whereas 47 have suffered serious injuries.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), polio, known as poliomyelitis, is an infectious viral disease that typically affects young children. The virus is transmitted through contaminated water and food. It multiplies in the intestine and then destroys the nervous system.
Pakistan has come a long way in its struggle to get rid of polio. In the early years of the 1990s, the annual incidence of polio was estimated at more than 20,000 cases a year. But over the past 5 years, an average of only 100 cases per year has been reported. The national polio eradication effort has made major strides in reaching out to children with immunization in all parts of the country over the past 15 years. However, the tremendous progress towards the eradication of polio in Pakistan is being threatened by certain extremist factors. However, there has been progress in the eradication of polio but there have been many obstacles as well.
On the other side Pakistan’s national security state remains busy to protect its domestic power and global leverage, whereas, the lethal and highly dangerous polio virus made a shocking comeback in recent years. Over 173 cases were officially reported during 2011, making a mockery of our priorities. Our neighbors, India and Bangladesh, have been successful in eradicating polio. Until the end of the month of February, 13 new polio cases were detected this year. The new cases are not confined to militancy-affected areas — though we would like to believe and blame the war on terror for all our woes. In 2012, polio cases were reported from Hyderabad and Naushehro Feroze in Sindh, Bahawalnagar in Punjab and Khyber Agency in FATA.
When Operation Zarb-e-Azb was started and put into effect, many saw this as an opportunity to access children and families from North Waziristan who had not been immunized since June 2012.
The rise in the number of cases of polio this year is a result of the mass migration from North Waziristan into other parts of the country.
The government needs to impose strict accountability and responsibility for good quality campaigns. As far as the issue of cold chain management goes, it is still not being taken seriously.
Despite the challenges, Pakistan is highly capable of addressing the issues that fail us in reaching out to the children with vaccine. Pakistan needs to revamp its strategy to address the implementation bottlenecks including: ensuring proper access to the affected population in security compromised areas, improving campaign quality and reliability, enhancing routine immunization coverage, addressing social and cultural constraints, and working closely with Afghanistan in border areas.
Pakistan is working with multiple international aid agencies and INGOs to get rid of polio throughout the country. The history of polio eradication campaigns in Pakistan show that with a strong sense of responsibility, the Government and the people together can help save children from being permanently disabled or dying from polio.
- There is dire need to create awareness among the people for the eradication of polio
- Polio vaccination campaigns should be made the first priority by the government
- Proper vaccination should be given to children in proper age
- Efforts should be made to make sure that no child is deprive of polio vaccines