KARACHI: A week-long polio immunisation drive targeting 4.96 million children was launched across Karachi and Hyderabad on Monday.

The campaign, part of the national immunisation days, had been delayed in the two divisions due to local bodies’ elections.

According to officials representing the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio in Sindh, an estimated 4,967,244 children under five years of age would receive oral polio drops along with vitamin A capsules during the campaign ending on Jan 29.

“Around 27,000 polio workers and staff along with 3,000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure smooth running of the drive in the seven and nine districts of Karachi and Hyderabad, respectively,” the official said.

Dr Khalid Shafi of the Pakistan Paediatric Association described Sindh’s situation as encouraging.

“There hasn’t been a single polio case in Sindh since July 2020 while Landhi, the only area in Sindh reporting a positive environmental sample last year, has now been tested negative,” he recalled.

Experts call for more focus on community participation

The governments at the federal and provincial levels, he said, were doing everything humanly possible and polio clusters had been contained.

“The South Khyber Pakhunkhwa, specifically the areas of Waziristan and Lakki Marwat, are the only polio-affected areas left in the country. People’s movement is high from these areas which explain the disease’s spread to other areas.”

Dr Shafi emphasised that polio virus’ circulation needed to be stopped for elimination of the crippling disease.

“There are factors beyond science in the affected areas which need to be addressed.”

As for the country’s low vaccination coverage, he regretted that this situation prevailed in a country with ample vaccine stocks and a system for delivery.

“What we lack is the community’s active participation. There should be sustained awareness campaigns that can make people understand the importance of childhood immunisation. In the cases of polio, the message should be loud and clear that it has no cure, though it can be easily prevented through vaccination.”

20 polio cases last year

According to health department officials, Pakistan has reported 20 cases of polio in the year 2022 and all belong to South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while positive environmental samples have also been reported from all provinces.

No polio case, however, has been reported from Sindh over the last 30 months.

The last polio case was reported on July 14 from Jacobabad while in Karachi on June 9, 2020 from Landhi, District Malir.

“The Sindh province has had continuous negative environment samples for the past one year except one in August 2022 from Landhi, District Malir,” a health department official said, adding that if efforts were continued with the same momentum, significant result would be seen in coming months.

Asked about the factors hampering progress in the super high-risk union councils, he said the government realised the conditions in high-risk areas and that communities were in need of other services.

“We are addressing this through new initiatives, which included establishment of water filtration plants, experimental dispensaries, model EPI [Expanded Programmes on Immunisation] centres, mother and child health facilities and operation of health camps in underserved areas through-out the province.”

Children, he said, could be saved from childhood diseases through vaccination and the government needed media’s help to raise awareness regarding this, he concluded.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2023



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