PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recorded only 15 polio cases in 2015 against 68 in 2014 owing to the government’s focus on quality of immunisation and the all-out support from the district administrations in the province, it was learnt.

The province has shown 78 per cent decrease in polio cases and is set to become virus-free in line with targets set forth at the National Emergency Polio Plan to make the country free of virus by May this year, if it sustained the gains during current year.

Experts attribute the effective immunisation campaign to the involvement of chief secretary who spearheaded the campaign and received regular updates from deputy commissioners who had been tasked to facilitate vaccinators in their respective areas.

It was for the first time that DCs were given specific targets by the chief secretary regarding immunisation. The support given by other relevant departments, especially police, also remained one of the factors and vaccinators were given tight security to carry out their work. The government has linked promotion of deputy commissioners with their performance in the anti-polio campaigns.

Recorded 15 polio cases in 2015, down from 68 in 2014

The outgoing year brought relief to the province that had been under tremendous international pressure to enhance immunisation to do away with the virus. The year showed emergence of negative environmental samples from sewage water in Peshawar which had been positive on most of the occasions in 2014. There has been no case in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since Sept 2015.

Experts say that the level of government’s sensitivity to polio immunisation had increased due to advocacy, but they fear that any let-up in the campaigns could again pave the way for emergence of polio cases.

Between 35,000 and 40,000 people take part in every three-day drive against polio to administer oral polio vaccine to 5.2 million children under age five. About 200,000 children missed vaccination either due to refusal by their parents or their unavailability during door-to-door visits. However, this small fraction of unvaccinated children could put at stake the lives of immunised ones.

The community-based vaccination programme has seen many ups and downs since its beginning in mid 90s. The virus exists due to many factors, while lack of government support has always been cited as a reason by the health department for failure to eradicate poliomyelitis, a vaccine-preventable childhood ailment.

Pakistan, which recorded 51 cases in 2015, was very close to eradication of polio when it registered only 28 polio cases nationwide in 2005, but the next year the cases swelled to 40. Also, 32 cases were recorded in 2007 and 117 in 2008. Since then, Pakistan has featured prominently with regard to number of polio-infected children because the success achieved couldn’t be sustained in the coming years.

In 2014, Pakistan ranked first among the polio endemic countries with 306 cases, 179 of which were reported from Fata alone.

In 2015, Fata showed a remarkable progress in eradication efforts with 16 polio cases, a reduction of 95 per cent, mainly because of its coordination with adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There’s 84 per cent decline in polio cases at the national level because of improvement in Fata, mainly due to provision of security to the health workers.

The number of cases in Sindh stood at 12, Balochistan seven and Punjab one. The international agencies have appreciated both the Fata and KP and want continuation of the anti-polio efforts.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2016