Polio virus still remains powerful

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According to the June 26, 2019 weekly updates from Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), five new wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases from Pakistan and two from Afghanistan were reported, bringing the overall number of cases in the two endemic countries in the first six months of 2019 to 32 and ten respectively and forty two globally. These new cases indicate the polio outbreaks are continuing in these two countries.

New polio cases in Pakistan were confirmed during the three day vaccination drive started on June 17. Pakistan with 76 percent of the global crippling virus is said to be a most dangerous place for children worldwide because according to the WHO, as long as even a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Undoubtedly, this is an enormous challenge for the country.

We should to know that Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly disease that affects the nervous system. It is spread through contact with the feces of an infected person. It is also spread by drinking water or eating food that is contaminated with infected feces.

On June, 17, the vaccination drive was launched in 45 districts of Pakistan. The National Emergency Operations Center said target was set to vaccinate more than 12.25 million children in core areas, including 5.53m in Sindh, 4.31m in Punjab, 1.32m in Balochistan and 1.1m in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The fact is that many of the core areas are far-flung and high risk regions, where in the past campaigns numerous polio workers and security personnel had lost their lives while vaccinating children. Similarly, in this drive also thousands of frontline polio workers especially women risked their lives going from door to door in their aim to protect children from lifelong disability. This shows that the government of Pakistan is making integrated efforts for the eradication of polio virus that is still surviving.

Reportedly, of the overall 32 confirmed cases, 18 have been reported in KPK, followed by eight in KPK’s tribal districts, three in Punjab and three in Sindh. The primary challenge has been a lack of community acceptance due to cultural, social and religious norms have rendered some populations inaccessible to the polio vaccination programme. Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar Bin Atta said nearly 10 per cent of the parents in three districts of Bannu, Lakki Marwat and North Waziristan, where tribal traditions are strong, have been refusing to vaccinate their children against polio virus during vaccination campaigns. Indeed, amidst other factors the Parental refusal to vaccinate their children against polio virus is the main factor responsible for the reported 32 cases in the country.

The problem of refusals is not new but there are a great number of chronic cases involving parents refusing to have their children vaccinated against this crippling virus. The refusal is the outcome of the untruthful and playful propaganda initiated by some negative elements; however, the vaccination carries no harmful side effects, but on the contrary, the refusal itself is damaging for children. The tragic fact is that even educated parents are not willing to administer anti-polio vaccines to their children.

In 2014, the WHO had declared Pakistan a polio-exporting country and had imposed travel bans on its citizens. The country was required to ensure that all its citizens and long-term visitors (of over 4 weeks) to it receive a dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between 4 weeks and 12 months before international travel; and that such travers are provided with proof of vaccination. Besides, polio-free states have taken precautionary measures to protect their citizens from polio. People who plan to travel to an area where polio is occurring should receive a booster dose of IPV. A single booster dose of IPV lasts a lifetime.

To attain the status of a polio-free state is of the essence for Pakistan. For the purpose, the country viewing the international state of play, pressures and warnings should strive to hit the virus hard through concrete, fool-proof and productive initiatives. The change of mind-set of people and stringent legal actions against those poisoning the minds of the people must strongly be necessitated in order to administer polio drops to vulnerable children. Besides, high-risk areas or sensitive regions, where both security concerns and parental refusals exist, should be painstakingly focused on.

As it is utmost important to vaccinate each child under five years in each anti-polio campaign, therefore services of expert social mobilizers, especially women, broad-minded religious scholars, opinion-making political leaders, influencers and local dignitaries are to be availed essentially to win over hearts and minds. They should be charged with the task of enlightening the parents about the efficacy of vaccination and ramifications of the refusal of vaccination. They are needed to convince the parents that there is no cure for polio and vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

(The author of this article is Freelance Writer, 

MPhil in Sociology @ Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur)

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