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ISLAMABAD, July 21: The World Health Organisation and Unicef have condemned the killing of a doctor associated with the polio prevention campaign of the WHO in Karachi.

The killing of Dr Muhammad Ishaq in Sohrab Goth area on Friday night is a setback for WHO’s campaign against the crippling disease.

Polio immunisation activities were suspended in the area earlier this week after Dr Fosten Dido, a foreign doctor associated with the WHO and supervising the campaign, was shot at and wounded.

In a joint statement, the WHO and Unicef said that till the suspension of activities Mr Ishaq worked with the polio eradication effort as a union council polio worker for several months and helped plan and implement campaigns to protect the most vulnerable children against the debilitating disease.

“Because of the dedication of heroes like Mr Ishaq, Pakistan is this year closer than ever to the eradication of polio. He was known for his dedication and diligence to immunise all children against polio,” the UN agencies said.

“WHO, Unicef and all polio partners in Pakistan and globally express their deepest sympathy to the family of Dr Ishaq for this tragic loss. The partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative remain committed to supporting the government of Pakistan and its people in their efforts to eradicate this devastating disease,” the statement said.

ANTI-POLIO CAMPAIGN: The progress of polio eradication campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2006 to 2011 has come under focus in a recent journal article by scientists from Imperial College London.

Published in Lancet, the study found that decline in vaccination coverage led to a rise in the number of new cases between 2006 and 2011. This decline in coverage was partially offset by the use of new monovalent and bivalent vaccines that have proven to be more effective against the main circulating strain of the virus.

The study found that vaccine coverage in southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan and Fata, declined from 2006 through 2011.

Dr Kath O’Reilly from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London, who led the study, commented: “The new vaccines appear to be more effective than the trivalent vaccine, which offers encouragement that polio eradication is achievable. But the best vaccine in the world will not work unless it reaches the children it is intended to protect.”

In 2012, both countries are implementing national polio emergency action plans to reverse the trend of declining coverage. Efforts are focusing on addressing the underlying challenges which prevent all children being systematically reached with polio vaccine.

The emergency plans focus on increasing technical support for worst performing areas; making district-level leadership more accountable; increasing the demand for immunisation through social mobilisation; identifying and reaching mobile populations and undeserved groups; and sensitive planning for immunisation campaigns to more accurately map out where children live and how best to reach them.

Early indications from the first half of 2012 indicate that these activities are beginning to improve the situation, with 22 reported cases in Pakistan to date compared to 58 in the same period in 2011.