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WHO Stresses More Political Will to Fight Polio in Pakistan

Total number of cases this year tops 66

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LAHORE– The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that lack of political will and gaps in immunization campaigns is the major reason of increasing number of polio cases in Pakistan this year while the challenges in reaching children remain.

Addressing at a seminar on “Poliomyelitis- the Endgame Strategy”, here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on Friday, WHO Team Lead for Polio Eradication in Punjab, Dr Raul Bonifacio said that because of the recent cases, the total number of polio cases has increased to 50 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and overall cases across the country has reached 66, as compared to 12 cases in 2018 and eight cases in 2017.

“During the current year, six cases have been reported from Sindh and five each from Balochistan and Punjab,” he said.

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world with ongoing wild polio virus transmission, alongside Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, 16 cases of polio has been reported this year as compared to 21 last year.

Dr Bonifacio added that survey has shown that parental/community refusals of vaccination is not because of religious issues.

He said that doctors are bigger opinion leaders than religious figures in most of the communities in Pakistan who needed to show their commitment in order to eradicate the crippling disease beside improving their diagnostic skills.

He further said that the genetic picture for Pakistan today provided basis for optimism especially if the gains achieved so far are sustained and intensified in the remaining areas of residual wild polio virus transmission.

He pointed out that the risks to Pakistan span beyond the areas where the polio cases were reported and a determined focus on delivering high quality campaigns that ensure finding and vaccinating every missed child is critical to stop virus circulation.

WHO Surveillance Officer, Dr Ujala Nayyar said that anti-vaccine propaganda had been an issue in Pakistan.

During a National Immunization Days (NID) campaign in Peshawar for example, a rumor that the polio vaccine would make children unwell, led to more than 37,000 children rushed to hospital in one day, a basic health unit set on fire, and indirectly the death of several vaccinators and security staff.

She added that polio is a highly infectious disease caused by polio virus mainly affecting children under the age of five. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where poliovirus continues to persist.

She further said that immunization programme is using a combination of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) to boost individual immunity of children (aged 4-23 months).

Combining OPV and IPV provides stronger protection against polio.  IPV strengthens immunity in the blood while OPV strengthens immunity in the gut. She said that cases of children up to 10 years of age had also been reported in Pakistan.

UHS Registrar, Dr Asad Zaheer called for bridging the gap in training facilities and procedures to improve clinical diagnosis of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) which is the main symptom of polio.— PRESS RELEASE