THE fight for a polio-free world might take a little longer to materialise. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative presented a pessimistic picture in its latest report. While type two and three strands of the polio virus have been eradicated, type one virus is still found in environmental samples taken from three polio-endemic countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. In total, the number of wild poliovirus cases has increased to 25 from just 13 in 2017. Two of the major reasons for the delay include militancy and limited access. Afghanistan, in particular, faces a daunting task. The number of polio cases more than doubled at 19 (compared to eight in 2017). And around a million children have been missed since May 2018. In Pakistan, the blame often falls on Afghanistan and the free movements of people between the two borders. While this may be partially true, and the two countries must work together to combat the spread of the disease, a news report mentioned an 11-member polio team found to be faking data on the number of children vaccinated, while throwing away vaccines in Islamabad. The team was immediately sacked, but the fact that it happened is certainly a blow to efforts.

When it comes to polio, even one case is one too many. But this is no reason to lose hope. Over the years, the number of sites for environmental surveillance has increased to 57 in 30 cities — the largest national polio surveillance system in the world. And out of the eight reported cases from Pakistan, five had developed immune systems strong enough to withstand paralysis. The GPEI report also mentioned political instability and transfer of power as another hindrance, but the independent National Emergency Services for Polio Outbreak, formed in 2014, has helped overcome some of the problems. The polio teams are currently preparing to tackle the virus once and for all this winter season, with a target of 38.6m children. May they succeed in their noble mission.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2018

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