AS if the resurgence of polio in southern KP were not enough, officials and international monitoring bodies must now deal with the detection of the poliovirus in other parts of the country too. Considering the many lapses in the management of the polio vaccination programme, the situation is likely to worsen with the virus continuing to spread. According to media reports, sewage samples collected in the third week of July from several places in the country, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, Nowshera, Bannu and Swat, tested positive for the poliovirus, belying claims by government officials that the virus was restricted to a few districts in KP. In fact, the new data may well be just the tip of the iceberg. The International Monitoring Board recently revealed that the number of ‘missed’ children — those who are not vaccinated during national campaigns — is actually higher than it was in 2018 and even 2019 when 147 polio cases had emerged from across the country. Moreover, what’s surprising in the IMB report is that, contrary to all expectations, Punjab has been declared as the “poor performer” rather than the other three provinces where gaps in vaccination coverage are often spotted. The IMB report has also expressed concern that the number of missed children might have risen drastically in Rawalpindi and Lahore. In addition, hundreds of cases of vaccine refusal have also been reported from Bannu, Dera Ghazi Khan and Shangla.
Given that polio officials were denying reports of the existence of the virus outside southern KP, the emerging facts might have stayed hidden from the public eye had 14 polio cases not surfaced from a cluster of high-risk districts in KP. It is extremely unfortunate that the battle against polio and the future of children at home and abroad has become collateral damage in the political bullfights going on in the country, a concern also expressed in the IMB report. When will those wielding power in the country realise that continued political instability is disastrous for any nation’s health?
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2022