KARACHI: With a special focus on Karachi, which has a large population of unvaccinated children and several ‘super high-risk’ union committees (UCs), health authorities launched a major polio immunisation campaign across the province, targeting 10.3 million children in 30 districts.
The campaign, part of the National Immunisation Days, will run for a week in Karachi and five days in the rest of the province.
The officials representing the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio in Sindh are attaching a lot of significance to the immunisation campaign launched in Karachi that has reported five environmental samples positive for polio last month.
In addition, they point out that the city has several UCs categorised as ‘super high risk’ and ‘high risk’, with some 89,000 (unvaccinated) children constantly being marked as “refused” or “unavailable” during polio immunisation campaigns.
Medical experts appeal to parents to get their children vaccinated
According to these officials, while Pakistan has reported only two positive cases of wild poliovirus this year, both from district Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh hasn’t reported a single case of polio since July 2020.
“Nevertheless, Karachi is a cause for concern given the fact that five positive environmental samples collected from the city’s drains have been tested positive for wild poliovirus,” Mr Riazuddin, representing the Emergency Response Unit at Gujro, Sohrab Goth, told Dawn.
The isolated virus, he pointed out, was genetically linked to the virus detected in an environmental sample in Afghanistan, indicating that migration was playing an important role in the spread of the virus.
The samples were collected from Hijrat Colony (district South), Machar Colony (district East), Sohrab Goth (district East), Orangi (district West), Haji Mureed Goth (district Central), and Keamari (district Keamari).
“The sample collection exercise shows that almost the entire city is at risk except district Malir and district Korangi,” he said, adding that some 1,200 children couldn’t be vaccinated in Sohrab Goth alone due to parents’ refusal in the last August drive.
To tackle vaccine hesitancy, officials said they had carried out multiple sessions with communities and tribal elders prior to the drive’s launch and were now hoping to cover 70 per cent of the ‘missed children’.
They credited the “effective campaigns” in Karachi that, they said, had protected children in a city that’s so vulnerable given the large spread of the virus.
According to officials, the city has eight ‘super high risk’ UCs and several ‘high risk’ UCs surrounding these localities. The ‘super high risk’ UCs are, Islamia Colony, Kati Pahari, Manghopir, and Songal in district West; Sohrab Goth in district East; Ittehad Town in district Keamari; and two UCs in Muslimabad, district Malir.
The authorities chose to launch the immunisation drive in Karachi in the area of Gujro, a locality in Sohrab Goth that reported a positive environmental sample for polio in May this year.
Health Minister Dr Saad Niaz kicked off the drive at Jannat Gul dispensary, where a number of officials, including Commissioner Karachi Saleem Rajput, EOC coordinator Irshad Ali Sodhar, Deputy Commissioner East Altaf Ahmed Sheikh, and district health officer (DHO) East Dr Shakeel Qureshi, were in attendance.
The immunisation drive in Karachi is targeting 2.6 million children. It involves 37,000 teams of health workers all over the province who are tasked with administering oral vaccine drops to children between the ages of six months and five years. They would also get vitamin A supplements during the campaign to help increase their immunity.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA), the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), and the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), as well as religious scholars, have appealed to parents to get their children vaccinated against the disabling and life-threatening illness that has no cure. But it could be prevented through vaccination.
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2023