THE year recently concluded saw several lows for the country; among these was the rampant, seemingly unstoppable march of polio.
Nearly 300 cases were reported in the country in 2014, said to be the highest number since 1998.
Though the state has never given polio eradication or other health issues the attention they deserve, it is also true that the government’s efforts were stymied by an incredibly fragile security situation.
Even so, there seems to be some hope on the horizon in 2015. As reported in this paper, the federal government is all set for the countrywide launch of the Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) from July, which will be included in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation.
This particular vaccine, said to be effective in combating polio, is already in use in some parts of the country, including Balochistan and Fata. Though it is a costly vaccine, it will fortunately be provided free of cost to Pakistan till 2018. Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, will bear the cost while China has provided technical and logistical support.
Though terrorism is no doubt Pakistan’s biggest present challenge, the fight against polio must be joined concurrently. The tally of cases recorded last year must be reduced significantly and for this to happen polio must feature significantly on the national agenda.
The introduction of the IPV is a welcome development, but brings its own challenges. Though the vaccine’s high cost will be covered for the next few years, it must be ensured that there is enough trained manpower to administer the injectable vaccine.
Also, we must not forget that whether the health authorities are administering the injectable or the oral polio vaccine, the core challenge remains the same: accessing all the target children.
The method of administration is indeed important, but getting to all the children in violence-prone and remote areas is equally so, as is countering harmful and baseless propaganda against the vaccine spread by obscurantist quarters.
While moulding its counterterrorism strategy, the state needs to prioritise the safety of vaccinators. Pakistan indeed remains polio’s final battleground.
The new year provides the government a fresh opportunity to ensure that no child is left unvaccinated and that polio is eradicated from this country as soon as possible.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2015