In a story printed in The Hindu, the head of Pakistan’s polio programme said that the country is taking assistance from India in its battle against the crippling disease.
India has been polio free for two years, “but what hinders Pakistan in containing the dreaded virus is insurgency, violence and illiteracy,” said Aziz Memon, Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee Chairman in an interview on a visit to India
Pakistan’s polio campaign suffered a major setback earlier this when a volunteer in the vaccination campaign was killed and her colleague wounded in a militant attack near Peshawar. The attack came soon after nation-wide polio campaign started on May 28.
Given India’s success in eradicating polio, Mr. Memon said Pakistan is looking to use a similar approach in reaching out to its population.
“We are taking lessons from India. Our teams visited Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to see the way they vaccinated children,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were once breeding grounds for the debilitating disease.
After 741 polio cases surfaced in 2009, India started using bivalent vaccines (targeting Polio 1 and Polio 3 viruses) in its national vaccination programme from January 2010. This showed dramatic effects and India moved out of WHO’s list of endemic countries in 2011.
“We picked many tips (from our visit). We learned how to involve hundreds of volunteers (involved in the campaign), how to handle the resource centre and how to immunise children at the transit check posts”, he said.
India being polio free for the past two years, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are now the only three countries in the world where the highly infectious, crippling disease still remains endemic.
Mr. Memon said that while Pakistan has been successful in vaccinating children, some areas remain out of reach for polio workers because of the threat of violence and various other factors.
“The situation of our polio programme is good. One of the main reserves of polio is the Gadap Town slum area in Karachi. Now, it is very much in control there,” Mr. Memon said.
Gadap Town , the largest slum of Karachi, which has concentration of migrant Pashtun speaking population of Khyber Pakhhtunkhwa has high incidents of polio, increasing the risk of the virus spreading.
Mr. Memon said that the issue of insurgency and violence in certain areas was a “major setback” to the programme.
“The area around Peshawar is another focus ... Insurgency and law and order are the problems there,” Mr. Memon said.
Recently the Pakistani authorities suspended the four-day polio vaccination programme after an attack on a polio worker on May 28.
Mr. Memon said that the tribal region of the northwest was problematic area with the Taliban’s rejection of the oral vaccination programme.
While the Taliban in Afghanistan recently announced its support for polio vaccination, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continue to oppose it.
“In Pakistan, Taliban leaders change every 30 miles. They are against polio vaccination,” he added.
The TTP has banned polio vaccination alleging that the vaccination programme is a cover for espionage.
“Working in that area (the northwest) is not so easy. There are many issues. Children are trapped there, though we have vaccinated some children with the army’s help,” Mr. Memon said.
According to media reports, two children have been diagnosed with polio in the last 36 months in the North Waziristan area of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA).
During the last polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan, some 1.83 million children missed polio drops across the country owing to various reasons, including security threats according to data collected by the World Hearth Organisation (WHO).
About 763,714 children were missed in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa alone, 621,724 in other areas of FATA, including 260,000 from North and South Waziristan, and 396,925 in Balochistan.
So for this, eight cases of polio have been recorded in Pakistan.