PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s efforts to eradicate polio are yielding success with no confirmed case reported this year, unlike 2023 when four children were paralysed by the vaccine-preventable disease.

Experts told Dawn that vaccination was the only way to eliminate polio, which continued to contribute to the disabled population.

They said last year, Pakistan recorded six polio cases, including three in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (two in Bannu district and one in Orakzai tribal district), and two in Karachi city of Sindh province.

The experts, however, said the KP province had so far been free from the polio virus in the current year with all five nationwide cases reported in Balochistan (four) and Sindh (one).

Officials say they’re committed to vaccinating all children against virus for its eradication

They added that the country’s 20 cases in 2022 were reported in KP.

However, health officials argue that they’re committed to continuing efforts to vaccinate children against polio until the disease is fully eradicated, which was achievable only through the administration of oral polio vaccines to all children under the age of five years.

They complained that negative propaganda against vaccination had caused harm to the anti-polio efforts, resulting in infected children being crippled for life and unable to participate in normal physical activities.

The experts said the history of vaccines dates back to 1796, when the prevention of smallpox became a daunting challenge worldwide.

They added that with the help of vaccines, smallpox was eradicated completely with not a single person affected by the highly contagious viral disease present today.

The experts said vaccines prevented 2-3 million child deaths annually the world over and with improved immunisation, an additional two million deaths of children under the age of five years could be prevented.

They said that over 100 million children were immunised every year before their first birthday, while around 24 million children under the age of one year (20 per cent) didn’t get vaccines.

The experts said from 2000 to 2007, intensified vaccination campaigns led to a 74pc reduction in measles-related deaths globally.

They said poliomyelitis had been eradicated from 122 countries since 1988 with the help of the same vaccine.

The experts said polio vaccines had been declared safe, while reputed Islamic scholars in the world had declared its administration in line with the teachings of Islam and recommended it for the protection of children against disabilities.

“We need to give repeated doses of oral polio vaccine to children in the presence of factors limiting its efficacy in developing countries like Pakistan.

These included competition from other enteroviruses (non-polio enteroviruses), frequent diarrhoea and malnutrition which warrant the significance of repeated vaccination,“ a Peshawar-based health expert told Dawn.

He called for the vaccination of the children, who were either not immunised or partially protected, to boost immunity in those who had been immunised.

“This initiative will ensure that every child in the most susceptible age group is protected against polio at the same time and deprive the virus of the fertile seedbed on which its survival depends,” he said.

The experts said before the start of polio vaccination, the number of cases worldwide used to be more than 300,000 but after vaccination, it had come down to 10 only.

They added that only Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan were the two endemic countries left in the world with both recording five cases each in the current year.

The experts said currently, vaccines are provided to people for over a dozen diseases.

They said polio could be eliminated through repeated immunisation and once that happened, the money previously spent on it could be used for the eradication of other childhood diseases.

The experts said the country needed to record no polio case for three years in a row to be formally declared polio-free, which was possible only through immunisation of all children under the age of five years in every campaign.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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