With 100pc children inoculated, health ministry claims polio drive ‘on track’

Updated December 30, 2019

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Dr Rana Safdar, Coordinator National Emergency Operations Centre,  it was the first anti-polio vaccination drive of the year which was undertaken in all areas of Pakistan including remote border areas. — AFP/File
Dr Rana Safdar, Coordinator National Emergency Operations Centre, it was the first anti-polio vaccination drive of the year which was undertaken in all areas of Pakistan including remote border areas. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme of the Ministry of National Health Services claimed on Sunday that it is “finally back on track”, having faced several controversies in the past six months, as during the December campaign front-line workers had vaccinated over 100 per cent children i.e. 43.9 million of the targeted 39.6m children across Pakistan.

“Moreover, the number of missed children was 2.5 million in April but in the recent campaign only 200,000 children under the age of five were missed. Even those were cases of refusals and the polio teams did not force parents as per the advice of the programme,” said Dr Rana Safdar, Coordinator National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), while talking to Dawn.

“Though children under the age of five are vaccinated during polio campaigns but the instruction was given that six-year-olds who appear around five years should also be vaccinated as it increases immunity levels in children,” he added.

He said the number of refusals was also decreased by seven times during the recent campaign as in April there were 1.4 million refusals but that number dropped to only 200,000 during the December campaign.

“During the polio campaigns, we emphasised that preference be given to quality over quantity. So, during the last few months, we focused on quality campaigns and that is why improvement in vaccination coverage can be observed,” Dr Safdar said.

He also said it was the first anti-polio vaccination drive of the year which was undertaken in all areas of Pakistan including remote border areas.

Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health, also endorsed NEOC Coordinator Dr Safdar’s claim of the polio programme now back on track.

“Nationwide polio vaccination campaign, which was conducted from Dec 16-20, is the first step towards making Pakistan polio-free. This was the first nationwide campaign conducted since April 2019 after an orchestrated incident in Peshawar impeded the programme’s operations,” said Dr Mirza, according to a statement released by the Ministry of National Health Services.

Dr Mirza was referring to the incident in April this year when students from a school in Peshawar were rushed to a hospital claiming to have reacted adversely to the polio vaccine administered to them. It later emerged that the principal of the school had forced the students to do so and the children were in good health.

As for the future strategy of the programme, Dr Mirza stated, “The polio eradication programme is headed in the right direction and the government has a firm resolve to defeat polio virus transmission in the country through the optimum utilisation of this low transmission season” and Dr Safdar told Dawn that “[current] low temperatures are the best opportunity to attack the virus. Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Programme is fully committed to using up-coming campaigns over the next few months as the opportunity to stop the virus circulation once and for all”.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2019