AFTER the emergence of 13 polio cases from across the country in less than a couple of months this year, the first five-day national vaccination drive commences tomorrow to immunise around 40m children of the country. Maximum effort is required to make this campaign a success considering that the tally so far this year is already more than the total number of cases reported in 2017. In contrast, there were 12 and eight cases in 2018 and 2017 respectively. Given the managerial blunders and organisational mishaps that occurred last year, polio cases in the country rose to a devastating 144. The alarming increase resulted in a three-month polio-related travel restriction by WHO; it is crucial that the same mistakes are not repeated in the ongoing immunisation efforts. There were allegations of corruption which resulted in the ouster of the prime minister’s focal person on polio; there were also multiple incidents of the accidental use of expired vaccine which is said to have led to the re-emergence of the wild poliovirus type 2 that had been eradicated in 2014. Besides, flawed vaccination drives resulted in a significant number of children not being administered the vaccine. The situation was exacerbated when health officials stooped to playing politics by blaming past administrations for their own incompetence. This was in addition to their failure to share details of the actual coverage of the vaccination drives.
As recently as December, health officials had happily declared polio eradication efforts to be back on track with 100pc immunisation coverage. This claim was made despite the fact that expired vaccine had been administered to scores of children in Rawalpindi and at least 30,000 children had not been immunised in Sindh. The health of the country’s children is not a matter to be taken lightly, as it is by our political and bureaucratic systems. The national polio authorities need to immediately get down to work if they want to even begin controlling the monster they let out.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020