No strategy in sight to stem rising polio cases

Sep 25 2014

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.— Dawn file image
.— Dawn file image

ISLAMABAD: Though the increasing polio cases in the country are embarrassing the government at the international level, health departments are doing nothing except convening meetings and giving suggestions to each other.

On Wednesday, Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar again held an emergency meeting of all stakeholders to discuss the rising polio cases. The participants said provinces should double their efforts for the eradication of the crippling disease.

Know more: Polio emergency

A participant of the meeting requesting not to be identified told Dawn that rather than fixing the responsibility on the officials concerned for failing to curb the disease, once again a team — headed by Secretary Health Mohammad Ayub Sheikh — was formed to visit the provinces frequently and look into their deficiencies.

It may be noted that on Tuesday the United Nations General Assembly described Pakistan as a major hurdle in declaring the world as polio free.

Director General World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Margaret Chan told an informal meeting on polio at the United Nations General Assembly: “Pakistan is the single most important stumbling block along the road to ending polio, once and for all. Right now, a massive polio outbreak is sweeping across the country.


Health ministry holds another meeting, asks provinces to double efforts to eradicate the disease


“Worldwide, nearly nine out of every 10 children paralysed by polio live in Pakistan. Out of the global total of 178 cases this year, 166 (now 171) are from Pakistan. Think about it. These figures are dramatic.”

Dr Chan highlighted the efforts of the KP government and the army by saying: “Political and local leaders in Peshawar proved last spring that OPV campaigns can be run without a security incident. Military commanders in Khyber Agency showed that all children could be reached and vaccinated in that area.

This past summer, hundreds of thousands of Waziris were vaccinated in transit posts. However, those local success stories still have to be coordinated and scaled-up into a national eradication effort, conducted in a full-force emergency mode.

Without that, the risk that Pakistan will seed outbreaks and set back progress elsewhere is great, she said.

But the meeting presided over by Minister Saira Afzal Tarar once again decided to make efforts to eliminate the virus.

According to an official statement, the minister said while the federal government was ensuring uninterrupted supply of polio vaccines there was a need for the provincial and district governments to re-double their efforts and fix gaps in the campaign quality.

An official of the ministry on the condition of anonymity said though the participants of the meeting stated that vaccines would be provided all over the country and there would be no issue of operational cost, the ground realities were just the opposite.

“For over one year, the government has not approved a PC-I to get loan from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to meet the operational costs. As a result, polio campaigns have been delayed in Sindh and Balochistan as there were issues of delivery of the vaccines. Polio workers also faced difficulties because of the delay in the payment of their stipends,” he said.

At the meeting, he added, the participants tried to defend themselves by saying that out of the 171 cases 158 had been reported from Fata and KP. But they failed to find a solution to the national issue.

“In fact, the participants only expressed the hope that after ensuring peace in Fata, the issue of polio would be resolved,” he added.

A number of parents refused to vaccinate their children but the government never took action against them. A special legislation should be done and refusal should be declared a crime, he said.

When contacted, the technical head of the PM’s polio cell, Dr Altaf Bosan, who also attended the meeting, said all the stakeholders had decided that an intense campaign against polio would be launched all over the country from November.

The low transmission season starts from November so it will be the best time to attack the virus. Moreover, a strategy is being prepared to involve the provinces in the decision-making process, he said.

“On Thursday, we are going to hold another meeting chaired by the focal person of the PM’s polio cell, Ayesha Raza Farooq, in which representatives of all the provinces will participate,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 25th , 2014