PESHAWAR: Pakistan faces an uphill task in its battle to eradicate poliomyelitis despite a reduction in the instance of the disease this year, compared to last year.

“Only four cases have been reported from two districts — three from Dukki, Balochistan, and one from Charsadda, KP — so far this year. Last year, we had five cases from as many districts,” Babar Bin Atta, focal person on polio to the prime minister, told Dawn.

According to him, the number of cases is declining. “In 2014, we had 306 cases which came down to 54 in 2015, 20 in 2016 and eight in 2017, but we are concerned about the circulation of the virus in Peshawar, which is the main obstacle in our way if we want to align ourselves with the World Health Organisation’s eradication initiative.

“We will be holding meetings with the KP chief minister and governor to discuss the problems in Peshawar. We will also talk about the lack of clarity on the KP-Fata merger, which is a major concern,” he said.

There are issues in Mohmand and Bajuar tribal districts that needed to be resolved, he said. “We cannot celebrate the decrease in cases until we completely eliminate the virus from sewerage water.”

Mr Atta said there was always the problem of missing some children in the vaccination campaign, which had hampered the progress. Last time, he said, they missed 500,000 children.

“Silver lining is that the core reservoirs of Karachi, Quetta Block and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have not reported any case in the past 10 months, and a recent survey has shown enhanced immunity in all zones of concern,” he said.

The overall protection level is above 95 per cent, except Killa Abdullah (92pc), which also improved from 88pc recorded in the past.

Countrywide, 236 million children have so far been vaccinated this year and several measures have been taken to strengthen routine immunisation, provide safe water and improve sanitary conditions.

Constant community enga­gement and social mobilisation efforts had helped the programme keep the proportion of refusals below 0.3pc, but it was still unacceptable, Mr Atta said.

“We are also focusing on strengthening vaccination along the border with Afgha­nistan, which has reported 16 cases in 2018. The pockets of inaccessibility are significantly hampering Kabul’s efforts with risks of spillover to Pakistan,” he argued.

To further minimise the risk, Mr Atta said, all children up to the age of 10 years were being vaccinated at border crossing points.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2018

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