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A lady health worker administers polio drops in Peshawar. – File photo by Reuters
A lady health worker administering polio drops. — File photo by Reuters

KARACHI, Feb 1: This year’s first case of polio in the country was detected in a two-year-old boy in Karachi on Friday. This was the first polio case in the city after one and a half years.

Musharraf, son of Usman, is a resident of Cattle Colony in Bin Qasim Town. The boy has never been vaccinated against polio.

“This family had old misconceptions about polio vaccination and had repeatedly been recorded as a ‘refusal’ in anti-polio campaigns, the regular vaccination drives as well as special anti-polio campaigns,” expanded program for immunisation (EPI) of Sindh director Dr Mazhar Khamesani said.

“They are willing for vaccination now, but there is no use of it when the boy has been crippled for life,” he said.

According to Dr Khamesani, the family sought medical help when the boy fell ill with fever and weakness.

“His samples were sent to the National Institute of Health on Jan 14 and the results have been received today,” he added.

Last year, 58 polio cases were reported in Pakistan and four of them were recorded in Sindh (one each in Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Larkana and Naushahro Feroze).

The only two other countries where polio cases were reported last year were Nigeria (over 200 polio cases) and Afghanistan (over 60 polio cases).

The major challenge, according to experts, Pakistan is currently facing in its fight against polio is the use of violence against polio workers.

A number of polio vaccinators have been killed across the country while many have received death threats.

Efforts to tackle polio in the country have also been hampered over the years by local people’s misconceptions and suspicions about vaccination.

Resistance also comes from parents, often poorly educated and impressionable, who believe in wild conspiracy theories about the polio vaccine.

The misconceptions, experts believe, about the anti-polio campaign, especially in tribal communities, have increased after Dr Shakeel Afridi’s fake polio campaign.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 3.5 million Pakistani children missed out on polio vaccination when nine immunisation workers were shot dead in various parts of the country in December last year.

On Thursday, two polio workers were killed when they were hit by a roadside bomb in Kurram Agency.

Statistics showed that 1.75 million children were missed out in Sindh after the campaign was called off following the killing of four female polio team members in Karachi last year.

The government had resumed polio campaign in Karachi recently, but not in those areas where killings had taken place.

Out of a total target of 18.5 million children for the last polio round, 14.9 million children were vaccinated throughout the country.

In the insurgency-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around 700,000 children were missed out as a result of the early suspension of the campaign after the deaths of polio team members.

In central Punjab, more than 800,000 remained unvaccinated but WHO officials said some major cities started the campaign a day late and data were still awaited. It was expected that the number of missed-out children would significantly fall.

More than 200,000 children in different areas remained unvaccinated for reasons unrelated to attacks.

To discuss issues related to polio campaign in Karachi’s south district, United States consul general in Pakistan Michael Dodman met the deputy commissioner of the district, Mustafa Jamal Kazi, in his office on Friday, APP said.

According to a press release issued by the DC office, Mr Kazi apprised the US official in detail of arrangements made for oral polio vaccination campaign in the district. He said the campaign also included the areas where resistance to the vaccine had been observed.

Mr Kazi specifically referred to arrangements made by the district administration for the protection of polio workers.