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A child being administered polio drops. — Photo by AFP/File

ISLAMABAD, Oct 8: Even if Pakistan somehow roots out polio virus from the land by the target date of end of 2012, it will have to carry on polio immunisation campaigns until 2022, a visiting official of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) said here on Monday.

“Pakistan will have to vaccinate for another decade to ensure that the polio virus is completely eradicated and never afflicts its children again,” Helen Evans, deputy chief executive of GAVI told Dawn in an interview.

Ms Evans is here to extend GAVI's support to Pakistan's program to include vaccination against childhood pneumonia in its immunisation campaigns.

She said that pneumonia was the largest killer disease for children in Pakistan. One in five children born in Pakistan dies of pneumonia before reaching its fifth birthday.

GAVI will provide Pakistan $109 million to purchase pneumococcal vaccine up to 2016. She suggested Pakistan produce the vaccine locally.

Ms Evans said the world was watching Pakistan since its government gave the assurance at this year's international health assembly that it is “committed to limiting the spread of polio virus”. Pakistan, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, remains afflicted by the polio virus.

Last year the total count of children stricken by polio in Pakistan was 198. This year, the figure has touched 43 when the target deadline set by the government in its emergency plan is just two months away. Pakistan may miss the deadline.

However, a senior federal expert didn't agree with Ms Evans’ statement that the country would need to carry on its anti-polio campaigns for another 10 years.

“We don't need polio immunisation for another decade,” she told Dawn.

Once globally certified as non-polio transmission country, Pakistan is required to run the immunisation program for three more years under the international standard guidelines to ensure complete elimination of the virus, she said.

After that “it will be up to the government whether to continue with the immunisation campaigns or stop the immunisation against polio”, she added.

But the expert was not categorical when asked if Pakistan will meet the deadline to limit polio cases by December 2012.

“Most of the polio cases reported this year were from Fata and in militancy-hit areas and only 13 from the settled areas,” she noted only to add that even if the deadline passed “we are hopeful to limit the virus completely by the next year”.

Afghanistan was also “a source of virus transmission into Pakistan because of intermittent movement of people from both sides of the borders”, she pointed out. “The leadership of both the countries have to sit together and address this important issue of people's health.”

However, doubts still lurk in the minds of Pakistani health experts on issues such as the shelf life of the imported vaccine and lack of will on the part of the government to produce the vaccine locally.

While the shelf life of vaccine was “purely a technical issue”, and varies for different vaccines, Ms Evans said local production of vaccines was a matter for the government and the private sector to decide.

She noted that almost 50 per cent of the vaccine procured by the aid agencies for the underdeveloped countries is made in India.