ISLAMABAD: Taking into account the improved security situation across the country, the need to reduce fatigue among polio vaccinators and law enforcement officials protecting them as well as additional financial cost of prolonged vaccination drives, the government has officially decided to reduce the polio campaigns to five days, it emerged on Saturday.

According to an official correspondence of the National Emergency Operation Centre for Polio Eradication, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the five days of immunisation drive, to be held from Nov 4 to 8 will comprise three days of the campaign and two catch-up days.

“As per revised strategy, it will be a five-day campaign (three-day campaign and two-day catch-up) in all areas. There will be no extended catch-up and the total duration of the campaign will be five days,” the official correspondence states.

It also states, “It is pertinent to highlight that based on Technical Advisory Group [TAG] on Polio recommendations, Independent Monitoring Board [IMB] concern, and Institute of Disease Modelling’s scientific evidence, that the country should carry out campaigns with a gap of eight weeks, to prepare optimally for having quality campaigns. Furthermore, after the IMB meeting, in which all Provincial Emergency Operation Centre [PEOC] Coordinators participated, all members had shown their concern that Polio programme needs to be put back on track based on scientific evidence.”

TAG is the highest technical body advising Pakistan on the polio eradication programme. IMB works on behalf of international donor agencies evaluating progress made by each country regarding polio eradication.

When contacted, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Babar bin Atta confirmed that the duration of polio vaccination drives has been reduced to five days. “Previously, we used to have three to five days polio campaigns, then two days catch-up campaigns, then an extended catch-up campaign and finally another extended catch-up campaign. As a result, sometimes, in some areas, the campaigns would go on for 20 days.”

He said this not only put an additional financial burden but it was impossible for police and armed forces to provide security for almost 20 days. Moreover, it caused fatigue in polio teams and officials of law enforcement agencies who were protecting these teams.

“Then, due to the security issue, there was a lack of security personnel because of which it was not possible to hold polio campaigns across the country simultaneously. However, now the security situation has improved and Pakistan Army has also assured us full support during the polio drives. Thus, it has been decided the polio campaign would be held for only five days and from Dec 16 it will begin simultaneously across the country,” he said.

Mr Atta said the objective of the polio campaign was to ensure “herd achievement”, meaning the maximum number of people is vaccinated at the same time.

“A number of countries have eradicated the poliovirus through five-day campaigns and we are hopeful that Pakistan would also do the same,” he said.

So far this year as many as 72 cases of polio have been reported countrywide. As many as 53 cases were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, eight from Sindh, six from Balochistan and five cases from Punjab.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019