Childhood’s crippling disease

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With as many as 20 cases of crippling poliovirus detected this year in Pakistan, the disease still remains endemic to three countries – including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, as the number of polio cases has been reduced to a significant 99.9 per cent in the rest of the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Over the past few months, the outcome of country’s anti-polio efforts has shown repeated failures in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where two new cases were detected, and the detection points to the failure of the health community to control and eradicate the poliovirus.
In the month of September this year, a three-month-old boy from North Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the latest victim of the virus. In 2022, so far, a total of 20 cases have been reported in the country, 17 from North Waziristan, two from Lakki Marwat and one case from South Waziristan. Most of the cases reported this year are limited to the KP’s districts, while in 2021 no case of polio was reported.
The total number of positive environmental samples in 2022 was 32 of which 22 positive environmental samples were detected from KP including 10 from Bannu, five each from Peshawar and Swat and one each from Nowshera and South Waziristan.
Similarly, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported eight positive samples from Punjab, including three each from Lahore and Rawalpindi, and one each from Bahawalpur and Sialkot. So far, one positive sample each from Sindh and Islamabad has also been detected this year. Last year, 65 positive environmental samples were detected in the country.
This shows that the focus of efforts on the eradication of polio over the past few years has been mixed one, rather patchy one, which led to its repeated failures. That is the tragic fact about the anti-polio campaign for all as the country can hardly afford to move ahead with carrying the stigma of the poliovirus.
The unsystematic and uncoordinated polio control efforts in the country, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are creating vast spaces for positive samples in the environment and later on contracted to children under age of five. Therefore, the government’s designated program should work on strengthening the routine childhood immunization with oral poliovirus vaccine known as (OPV) and keep focus on mass campaign to provide additional dose of OPV to all children under five years of age. Surveillance for wild poliovirus (WPV) and an intensive house-to-house combing in hotspot areas could help the government to eradicate the virus.
Pouring more money into an ultimately unsustainable polio control program and without approved set strategies could be more fatal.
As the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is all set to launch a fresh drive in Bannu division, authorities are also required to avail the service of religious scholars, prayer leaders and tribal elders to bring down cases of refusal and encourage people to get their children vaccinated.
With a foolproof strategy and sincere efforts the government can achieve the target of eliminating polio from Pakistan, provided the goal is pursued determination and renewed focus.