THE national vaccination campaign that kicked off in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday is being described by experts as crucial for maintaining the progress made towards polio eradication in the country. With only one case of wild poliovirus reported in the country so far this year, as compared to 84 in 2020, and a marked decrease in detection of the virus in environmental samples — from 55pc to 12pc — consistent efforts by the national polio programme seem to be showing results. However, with the high-transmission season coming up, experts assert that this window of opportunity is crucial for doubling the ongoing immunisation efforts and reaching as many children as possible, especially newborns and infants. In the other three provinces, the vaccination drive will begin on Sept 20. More than 290,000 Sehat Tahaffuz workers will go door to door across the country to vaccinate around 40m children younger than five years. A commendable initiative being taken in this campaign is the administration of supplementary doses of Vitamin A to children, in addition to polio drops. Experts involved in the national programme say that this step has been taken because nearly 50pc of children in the country have Vitamin A deficiency that leaves them vulnerable to illnesses such as measles, night blindness, diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Pakistan and Afghanistan remain the only two countries where the poliovirus is still endemic. With the prevailing tenuous situation in Afghanistan, the authorities need to accord high priority to the goal of eradicating polio quickly to minimise the chances of cross-border transmission of the virus. Prime Minister Imran Khan is cognisant of the situation as indicated by his meeting with the deputy commissioners of 20 high-risk districts to personally instruct them to intensify their efforts against polio. Notwithstanding the progress in polio eradication made so far it is crucial that the authorities ensure that the ongoing immunisation campaign achieves all its targets while also taking steps to monitor cross-border movement and enhancing security for health workers in high-risk areas.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2021