AFTER a considerable lull, polio eradication efforts will once again resume in Pakistan. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic gripped the world and diverted much of its attention and resources, Pakistan had been witnessing a spike in the total number of new polio cases. While the figure had been reduced to eight in 2017, then going up to 12 in 2018, 147 new cases were tallied at the end of 2019, and the health ministry was forced to admit a resurgence of a previously eliminated strain of the crippling virus. Even as all polio eradication activities had been halted in March 2020, barring surveillance, and efforts were redirected to support the battle against the novel coronavirus, the number of polio cases kept increasing. Seven months into 2020, around 60 cases have already been reported across the country, in all the provinces. The polio eradication programme is now set to resume on July 20, and in certain districts, door-to-door campaigns will incorporate awareness about the Covid-19 pandemic, so that families can better protect themselves from the infection and prevent the virus from spreading within their communities. As with polio eradication efforts, misinformation, disinformation and outright lies have surrounded the response to the novel coronavirus, and as new information comes to light with each passing week, it is important for the public to stay updated, follow protocols by health experts, and be aware of the risks. Of course, it is expected that all SOPs will be followed by the programme when the vaccinators pick up where they left off.
We may not yet have a vaccine against Covid-19, but a vaccine against poliomyelitis has existed since the 1950s. Its creator famously refused to patent it, saying ‘the people’ owned the patent. But beyond vaccination, the spread of many diseases, including Covid-19 and polio, has in some part been attributed to poor hygiene and sanitary conditions, and the inaccessibility of clean water. This will also need to be addressed.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2020