ISLAMABAD: As the National Polio Programme is set to launch this year’s last countrywide vaccination drive on Monday (today), three more infants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab were found to be suffering from polio.

With the latest confirmation of the crippling virus in the three children, aged between four and eight months, the total number of polio cases in Pakistan has surged to 104 during the current year.

The tally was as low as 12 last year and eight in 2017.

According to an official statement, Pakistan resumes its aggressive battle against the crippling poliovirus with the nationwide door-to-door campaign in all districts/areas of the country from Dec 16 to 20 during which 39.6 million children will be targeted.

The campaign has been synchronised with Afghanistan to ensure vaccination of all children on the move as well, as 75 of the 104 cases belong to KP that shares a long border with the landlocked country.

While it will be a five-day campaign plus two-day catch-up in core reservoirs, a three-day drive with two-day catch-up will be run elsewhere across Pakistan.

Total number of cases this year surges to 104

Just a day before the launch of the vaccination drive, the National Institute of Health confirmed that three children, including two girls, hailing from KP and Punjab have got paralysed due to the crippling poliovirus.

Three new cases

According to a lab official, two cases were reported from district Lakki Marwat of KP and one from district Muzaffargarh of Punjab.

“A four-month-old girl, who has been paralysed by the virus, is a resident of Bakhmal Ahmadzai union council of Lakki Marwat’s Tehsil Serai Naurang. The other eight-month-old victim is a boy belonging to Daratang UC of Lakki Marwat.

The official said the Daratang boy was a “case of refusal, as the family was not willing to administer polio vaccine to him”.

“The third case is from Punjab where a seven-month-old girl of Tehsil Kot Addu of District Muzaffargarh has got paralysed due to polio virus. She, too, had not received a single dose of polio vaccine,” he said.

75 cases in KP only

The area-wise polio data of the current year shows that 75 cases have been reported from KP, 16 from Sindh, seven from Balochistan and six cases have been reported from Punjab.

While talking to Dawn, National Coordinator for Emergency Operation Centre Dr Rana Safdar said Pakistan faced irreparable loss as over 100 children got paralysed in 2019.

“We have to reverse this onslaught by polio virus to prevent further damage. We plan to conduct three large-scale campaigns in December, February and April to push the virus back,” he said.

“The high-quality December campaign is imperative to set the right momentum. The National Polio Programme has worked extremely hard to ensure availability of the world’s highest quality vaccine at people’s doorstep. It’s now duty of the parents and all Pakistanis to facilitate vaccination of every child across the country,” Dr Safdar said.

The provincial coordinator for EOC Balochistan, Rashid Razzaq, said 33 districts including Quetta, Pishin Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Jhal Magsi, Subhatpur, Dera Bugti, Sibi, Loralai, Duki, Harnai, Ziarat, Qila Abdullah, Qila Saifullah, Barkhan, Zhob, Sherani, Bolan, Kohlu, Nushki, Chagai, Washuk, Kharan, Kalat, Mastung and Khuzdar will be covered during the drive.

Security arrangements

The official said: “We have adopted strict security measures to provide complete security to polio workers and prevent any unforeseen situation. Levies force, police and Frontier Corps will be deployed to protect polio workers.” He added that religious scholars were also taking part in the drive to persuade the parents who refused to allow polio workers to administer vaccine to their children.

In all, 39.6m children will be targeted during the weeklong campaign against the disease. They will include around 19.9m children in Punjab, nine million in Sindh, 6.75m in KP, 2.5m in Balochistan, 690,000 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 240,000 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 356,000 children in Islamabad.

Vitamin-A supplement

Along with oral polio vaccine (OPV), Vitamin-A supplement will also be administered to around 36m children aged between six and 59 months, aimed at boosting immunity against all infectious diseases.

Around 265,000 personnel including 26,384 officials in charge of areas, 8,434 UC medical officers, 201,799 mobile, 10,243 fixed and 11,714 transit members of polio vaccination teams will strive to achieve the targets set for the campaign.

The EOC has also deployed 45 experts to facilitate preparedness and ground implementation of campaign activities by local teams in priority areas.

On the direction of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government has also taken renowned religious figures on board. A message of Maulana Tariq Jameel in favour of the campaign is being widely spread. The Maulana said: “There is a misconception that the polio vaccine is a conspiracy. It is a medicine and Allah has kept cure in it. Administer polio drops to your children.”

There are only two countries in the world — Pakistan and Afghanistan — where polio cases are being reported.

Pakistan remains under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation due to which every person travelling abroad has to carry a polio vaccination certificate.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Saleem Shahid from Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019