AFTER the long and tedious efforts of those running the national polio programme, there are signs that Pakistan might just be able to eradicate the crippling disease. With only one case of wild poliovirus reported so far this year, the hard work of Pakistan’s polio workers, who walk from door to door in the face of rejection and threats to vaccinate youngsters, is finally paying off. It is even more significant that this progress has been made in the difficult era of Covid-19, when manpower and resources are difficult to muster, let alone manage. Last year, vaccination campaigns remained suspended for more than five months. Despite that, the only wild poliovirus case surfaced in Balochistan while eight cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type-2 have been reported. In 2020, there were 84 WPV and 135 cVDPV2 cases. The relatively low number of cases and negative environmental samples indicate that the poliovirus is indeed on the wane. However, experts warn that this progress is fragile and could be reversed if vaccination efforts are halted or compromised. Pakistan was on the brink of eliminating polio in 2018. But a complacent attitude dominated the last push, leading to an aggressive resurgence of polio in 2019 that overturned previous gains.

So, the authorities should not pat themselves on the back just yet. On the contrary, now is the time to double down on vaccination efforts to make way for Pakistan’s exit from the tiny club of two countries (the other being Afghanistan) where the disease remains endemic. With a national immunisation drive beginning on Aug 2 and aiming to vaccinate over 23.6m children, it would be a good idea for the authorities to simultaneously launch a robust information campaign to educate the public. As 179,000 polio workers put themselves at risk yet again by going from door to door to vaccinate our children, the government must also do its bit to persuade reluctant parents to comply for their children’s sake. Hopefully, with consistent efforts, Pakistan can root out polio.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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