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Daily Briefs


Photo : www.unicef.org

5 January 2020, Sunday

Polio threat continues; 120 plus cases reported in 2019



Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan remains one of three polio-endemic countries in the world.

PR Daily Brief | D. Suba Chandran

5 January 2020, Sunday

What happened?

With the reporting of new cases from Sindh, Balochistan and KP, the number of victims to poliovirus in 2019 has increased to 128. Commenting on the recent incidents in Sindh, a National Institute of Health (NIH) official was reported telling that one of the children affected by the virus did not receive a single dose of the vaccine.

According to the UNICEF, "Pakistan is one of three remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria."

 

What is the background?

Despite the government initiatives since 1994, the poliovirus has not been wholly eradicated, for three primary reasons. 

First, the seriousness and the capacity of the government – both at the national and provincial levels. The Polio Eradication Programme was launched in Pakistan during 1994. For the last 25 years, the government has been engaged in fighting the poliovirus. When compared to 20,000 cases in the 1990s, to a mere 100 plus in 2019, the government has come a long way in addressing polio in Pakistan. But, as could be seen from the cases in 2019, the problem is yet to be eradicated. The fact that the virus exists only in two other countries – Afghanistan and Nigeria shows with whom Pakistan is bracketed with in terms of healthcare.

While at the national level, there is better exposure, it is at the provincial levels there is a gap. Mainly in three provinces – KP, Balochistan and Sindh.The fact that the government is unable to provide security to the health workers to admit the polio vaccine in rural districts of these three provinces shows where the heart is.

The second primary problem in fighting poliovirus in Pakistan is with society. Illiteracy and lack of exposure prevent society from taking this problem seriously and tackling it. A majority in the patriarchal society believes that there is a conspiracy from the West in reducing the population growth in the Muslim World and polio vaccine is a strategy towards achieving that! As a result, a section within the society is neither willing to administer the vaccine, nor accept to provide blood samples to the health workers.

Finally, the militant groups during recent years have been targeting the health workers who go to rural areas. Especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden by a secret US raid, the militant groups target these health workers as spies of the West. Or, perhaps, since they are easy targets, it is using Laden's killing as an excuse to target the health workers. Remember, Dr Afridi, who ran a vaccine programme, was instrumental in collecting the blood samples and confirm Laden's presence in Abbottabad.

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