Officials think polio eradication possible in 2014

Published January 2, 2014
A two-day meeting of Technical Advisory Group (TAG) held in Islamabad in November last year observed that Pakistan could eliminate polio despite recording 83 cases in 2013 because the root cause of the problem was identified. — File photo
A two-day meeting of Technical Advisory Group (TAG) held in Islamabad in November last year observed that Pakistan could eliminate polio despite recording 83 cases in 2013 because the root cause of the problem was identified. — File photo

PESHAWAR: The government can eradicate polio in the country in year 2014 if it tackles political and management issues that have marred immunisation efforts in the areas where children remained unvaccinated last year, according to officials.

A two-day meeting of Technical Advisory Group (TAG) held in Islamabad in November last year observed that Pakistan could eliminate polio despite recording 83 cases in 2013 because the root cause of the problem was identified.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded 10 polio cases last year compared to 27 in 2012 that indicated success towards eradication of the virus, officials said. The areas in the province where children were missed during immunisation drive were also known, they added.

The children remained inaccessible in Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2013 that as the largest contributor to nationwide polio tally with 59 cases. The conflict zone in Fata had recorded 20 polio cases in 2012.

“However, polio cases have been detected in areas like North Waziristan that were not accessible for vaccinators. Children in FR Bannu and Peshawar also remained inimmunised owing to political and management issues that could be addressed,” said the officials, who attended the meeting.

The TAG members were confident that 2014 could prove last year of polio in the country if the virus, which circulated in limited places known to the people associated with the campaign against polio, was tackled effectively.

They said that the country needed to scale up efforts against polio and reach the children in inaccessible areas for vaccination.

The latest commitment of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan to anti-polio campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was seen as a major boost for the efforts in the province where series of strategies failed to provide level-playing field to the vaccinators.

About 17 workers, including policemen, vaccinators and volunteers, had been killed in polio-related incidents since December 2012 in the province.

Officials said Punjab and Sindh, which recorded seven cases each in 2013, were also advised to speed up vaccination efforts.

“The viruses exist in limited areas. Contrary to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Karachi, where law and order situation has hampered polio campaign, Punjab faces no such problem,” officials said, quoting the participants of the meeting.

According to them, the group members hoped that Pakistan would focus on Punjab and reservoirs of polio virus in Karachi, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to make the country polio-free by end of the year.

Vaccination in low transmission season with full administrative support in inaccessible areas could eradicate the virus easily, officials said.

The Technical Advisory Group, the highest forum for global polio eradication, also expressed satisfaction over the ongoing vaccination efforts in the country and said that the vaccination of children, who had been missing during the previous drives, could be significant in eradication with vaccine-preventable childhood ailment.

About 80,000 children did not receive oral polio vaccine in every campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa owing to which the 5.2 million immunised children in the province risked the crippling disease, officials said.

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