Polio enigma

The purging of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including the merged districts, of the poliovirus is a long awaited achievement. With this development, the country has recorded a major victory in the fight against the disease. There is no denying the fact that the road to a polio-free Pakistan is very long and tortuous. The hindrance in proper eradication is due to the unfortunate fact that there is an absence of vaccination centres. In addition, conservative views, flat refusal and migration by parents were other factors that contributed to the failure of the complete eradication of the disease. In Pakistan, the polio immunisation programme was opposed on account of the extremists’ propaganda that it was a design by Western countries to render Muslims infertile. It resulted in the suspension of immunisation efforts in many areas. The resistance led to physical attacks on health workers and volunteers in those communities opposed to the eradication campaign. Such trenchant opposition was responsible for the prolonged hiatus in combating the disease, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. After Nigeria declared itself polio-free, only Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to struggle for the eradication of this crippling disease that can result in lifelong paralysis.

Due to previous immunisation campaigns and better security cover for polio workers and health visitors, Pakistan has registered a steady decline in the cases of polio. Now, only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, remain on the polio-endemic list.

With the help of UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups, the effort is now paying off comparatively fast. However, the disease is still a challenge and a lot more needs to be done to purge the country of the polio virus. While the state’s commitment to fighting polio is encouraging, it is not enough to just initiate vaccination drives. There has to be a campaign to spread awareness about polio. What the country needs to do to achieve zero polio case status is to strengthen its surveillance system, improve routine immunisation and maintain high quality campaigns. We therefore call on governments at all levels not to be complacent and remain alert to the threat of this crippling disease by ensuring improved vaccine coverage and supplementary immunisation of children in their respective localities.