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Scientists in protective suits in a science laboratory study a dangerous virus to eliminate the epidemic

Pakistan starts Polio vaccination campaign to protect 40 million children

Pakistan has started a five-day vaccination campaign to try to protect tens of millions of children against polio. The coronavirus threat will make things more challenging than previous efforts, with workers having to wear masks and gloves as they go door to door around the country. It’s hoped 40 million children can be vaccinated and vitamin A drops will also be given to “help build general immunity”, said spokesman Zulfiqar Babakhel. Pakistan’s last polio vaccination effort was in the summer and included ex-Taliban areas bordering Afghanistan. The Taliban and other militants have claimed anti-polio efforts are part of a Western conspiracy to collect intelligence or sterilize children. They have previously attacked health workers and the security forces escorting them.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free. 

Though the polio immunization campaign in Pakistan started in 1974, the efforts for eradication officially started in 1994. At the time, the country was recording 20,000 polio cases each year on an average. By 2004, 10 years into the campaign, the number of cases in the country had dropped to only 30 per year. Health experts dubbed it a major achievement. However, the campaign lost momentum after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the deteriorating security situation in the years following the US invasion of Afghanistan. The US-led war on terror in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region made it difficult for authorities to focus on polio eradication. ”By the mid-2000s, the security situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region had dealt a major blow to the campaign,” Dr Safdar.

However, despite over 100 rounds of vaccination being carried out in the past decade, the infection remains endemic. Along with Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only country where polio is still endemic after Nigeria was declared free of the virus last year. Pakistan recorded only 12 cases in 2018, but there has been a surge in cases since then. In 2019, 147 cases of poliomyelitis(polio) were recorded and in December 2020, 83 cases were recorded. It is hoped 2021 will be the year when it can finally rid itself of the highly contagious infection – which causes temporary or permanent paralysis in some cases and can be life-threatening. To eradicate polio, more than 90% of children must be vaccinated.

“We aim to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of children. This is key to reduce the immunity gap and to protect our children against polio and other diseases. 

“The Government is committed to reaching the goal of a polio-free Pakistan which requires the full support of the nation, especially from communities and the parents and caregivers of children under the age of 5 years,” said Dr Faisal Sultan, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination.

By Jumana Jabeer

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