Drive against polio begins as Covid cases cross 500,000 mark

Published January 11, 2021
Pakistan will start the current year’s first polio campaign under strict precautionary measures and protocols on Monday (today). — AFP/File
Pakistan will start the current year’s first polio campaign under strict precautionary measures and protocols on Monday (today). — AFP/File

• 285,000 workers to vaccinate 40m children
• Strict health protocols to be observed
• NCOC reports over 2,800 single day cases, 46 deaths

ISLAMABAD: As countrywide Covid-19 cases surpassed the 500,000 mark and the number of deaths reached 10,644 on Sunday, Pakistan will start the current year’s first polio campaign under strict precautionary measures and protocols on Monday (today).

According to data of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), 2,899 cases and 46 deaths from Covid-19 were reported in a single day. With the latest figure, the total number of infected people in the country has surged to 502,416 with 456,969 having recovered.

The data about federating units showed that the highest number of cases was reported from Sindh which was 225,509. Though Punjab’s population is around 50 per cent of the total population of the country, 144,909 people have contracted the virus in the province.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recorded 61,148 cases while Islamabad, which is a city with only two million people, has reported 39,120 patients.

The data further revealed that 18,373 people were infected in Balochistan, 8,478 in Azad Kashmir and 4,879 in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The total number of active cases in the country stood at 34,803 as of Sunday.

Out of the total number of ventilators allocated for Covid-19 patients, Multan had the highest percentage of occupancy at 51pc, followed by Bahawalpur at 41pc, Lahore at 34pc and Islamabad at 33pc.

According to data on oxygenated beds, Peshawar was on top with 49pc of beds in use, 35pc in Karachi, 34pc in Multan and 31pc occupied in Islamabad.

Nationwide polio drive

A five-day national polio immunisation drive will start from Monday during which over 40 million children under the age of five will be vaccinated across the country.

A supplementary dose of Vitamin A drops will also be administered to the children aged six to 59 months. This will help build general immunity among susceptible children to protect them from polio and other diseases.

According to data issued by the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio, around 285,000 polio frontline workers will visit parents and caregivers at their doorsteps, adhering to strict Covid-19 precautionary measures and protocols while vaccinating children. These measures will include wearing a mask, using hand sanitisers and maintaining a safe distance during vaccination.

“Our aim is to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of children. This is key to reducing immunity gap and protecting children against polio and other diseases. The government is committed to reaching the goal of a polio-free Pakistan which requires full support of the nation, especially from communities and the parents and caregivers of children under the age of five years,” said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan.

“The year 2021 presents a unique opportunity to leverage the gains made in 2020. The programme implemented six high-quality campaigns in 2020 with the support of various stakeholders and the dedication of our heroes — the frontline workers — who defied the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and safely implemented high-quality campaigns,” he added.

Director General of Health and NEOC Coordinator Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar said that in 2021 the country was looking forward to sustaining the gains achieved in 2020.

“Alongside our plans to conduct quality polio campaigns, we are continuing our efforts to enhance essential immunisation coverage across Pakistan. Repeated campaigns are imperative to give a quick immunity boost to children under the age of five,” he said.

“With our highly committed frontline workers and the cooperation of parents and caregivers, the programme aims to restrict the geographic scope of poliovirus circulation to the high-risk areas only and get closer to the goal of eradication in 2021,” Dr Rana added.

According to a statement, the programme will continue to sustain high levels of leadership support across the political and society segments and will further strengthen programme implementation structures, engage better with priority communities, reinforce essential immunisation, deliver integrated services to under-served communities and maintain its coordination with Afghanistan counterparts for synergy in planned campaigns in 2021 with the aim to interrupt the spread of poliovirus across the shared epidemiological block between both countries.

It is pertinent to mention that the polio programme is working in partnership with various segments of society and organisations, including communities, local influencers, pediatric and medical associations, media, social activists, religious leaders, sports associations and the Pakistan Cricket Board. They are all supportive of vaccination and the goal of reaching a polio-free Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with its neighbour, Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2021

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