Daily Briefs

Photo : Dawn

01 March 2020, Sunday

In Pakistan, the Polio Problem Persists

According to WHO, there has been a 99 per cent drop in poliomyelitis cases since 1988; presently, the fatal debilitating paralytic infectious disease persists in three countries only – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

PR Daily Brief | Lakshmi V Menon

On February 29 2020, Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) officials confirmed that a 28-months old child, Anil Rajar, from Bhiria Tehsil of District Naushero Feroz tested positive for Wild Polio Virus 1 (WPV1), increasing Pakistan’s total polio cases in 2020 to 23 and divulging polio management programs’ inefficacies. As per an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) official, the date of onset has been confirmed as February 8 2020; both the lower limbs of the child have been affected by poliovirus, and the child’s parents said that seven doses of the Oral Polio Vaccine were administered. (The News International, March 1 2020)

Previously, the National Emergency Operations Centre’s coordinator, Rana Muhammad Safdar, blamed political transition and widescale bureaucratic change for the bouncing back of polio cases. He said that for a programme relying on 265,000 polio vaccinators catering to 35 million children, going door to door, political transition is challenging. (Al Jazeera, December 29 2019)

International Health Regulations (IHR) classifies Pakistan as a country infected with WPV1, cVDPV1 or cVDPV3 having a latent risk of global spread; thus, subject to temporary recommendations as of December 2019.

From 306 cases in 2014, Pakistan had successfully brought down incidence to 12 in 2018, however, amidst political transition, parents deprioritizing vaccination due to imminent dangers, polio boycotts, collective bargaining, public misinformation drives and attacks on polio workers incidence of the infection soared to 146 (a five-year high, of which 111 cases were from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in 2019 (Global Polio Eradication Initiative). 

In 2019, thousands of families in Orakzai, Bannu, Kurram, Peshawar and North Waziristan boycotted the vaccination campaigns. Conspiracy theories have caused attacks on polio workers killing over 100 people since 2012 (Al Jazeera). Campaigns are linked to “Western” conspiracy as a fake vaccination campaign was used to confirm Osama bin Laden’s identity. In April 2019, suspicions led to the boycott of polio eradication campaigns and the burning of a local government hospital. Nevertheless, over 175 pieces promoting misinformation were taken down by websites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Countries receiving aid for polio-eradication experienced demands by citizens for basic amenities (such as electricity, jobs, internet). As per GPEI, global donors spent over $800m on international polio-eradication efforts. 

According to WHO, there has been a 99 per cent drop in poliomyelitis cases since 1988 – from 350,000 to 33 in 2018; owing to sustained oral and injected vaccination campaigns targeting children under five. Presently, the fatal debilitating paralytic infectious disease persists in three countries only – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

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