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Polio Cases: A Case of Failing Governance System in Pakistan

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Dr Naveed Mukhtar

It is critical for Pakistan to control polio cases due to several reasons. Firstly, polio is a highly infectious viral disease that primarily affects young children, and if not controlled, it can lead to paralysis and even death. Controlling polio is crucial to prevent the spread of the disease and protect the health and well-being of children.

Additionally, Pakistan is one of the two remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, and as a result, it is important for the country to control polio cases to contribute to the global efforts of eradicating the disease. By doing so, Pakistan can help ensure that future generations are safeguarded against the threat of polio.

Furthermore, controlling polio cases is vital for Pakistan’s international reputation and trade relations. Being able to demonstrate effective control and eventual eradication of polio can improve the country’s standing in the global health community and remove barriers to travel and trade that are sometimes associated with countries where polio is prevalent.

Overall, controlling polio cases in Pakistan is critical for safeguarding public health, contributing to global eradication efforts, and enhancing the country’s international standing.

A nationwide polio eradication drive commenced on Monday, aiming to vaccinate approximately 16.5 million children. This marks the fifth campaign of its kind in the current year. However, amidst this effort, alarming reports have surfaced, indicating that four children have been affected by the poliovirus in the last five months, with the virus also being detected in multiple sewage samples.

Results from the Regional Reference Laboratory for Polio Eradication at the National Institute of Health revealed the presence of the virus in environmental samples collected from various locations between May 9 and May 15. Furthermore, a recent meeting of the Technical Advisory Group for polio eradication highlighted that 44 districts in Pakistan have been impacted by the virus since their previous meeting in June 2023. Notably, the virus in these samples has been linked to the YB3A WPV1 genetic cluster, which had previously vanished from Pakistan in 2021 but persisted in neighbouring Afghanistan, leading to cross-border transmission.

The struggle to achieve polio eradication has been a tale of progress interspersed with setbacks over the decades. Despite ongoing vaccination campaigns, eliminating the virus remains a formidable challenge owing to several factors, including widespread distrust of the vaccine, often resulting in vehement resistance. Tragically, numerous health workers and their police escorts have been targeted and killed by violent extremists. Nevertheless, the commendable work of brave workers ensures the continuity of routine immunization drives and accompanying media awareness campaigns. Moreover, enlisting the support of local clerics and religious leaders is crucial to cultivating trust and confidence in vaccination efforts.

In light of the transmission of the WPV1 strain from across the border, it is imperative for the government to engage in constructive dialogue with the Kabul government. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, during a recent visit to discuss polio eradication strategies, recommended reaching out to migrant populations in infected and high-risk districts, citing successful results in India, where vaccination efforts were targeted at well-mapped migrant populations.

The imperative steps required to combat the scourge of polio, which has unfortunately designated this country as one of the two worldwide where polio is endemic, have been unequivocally articulated. Eradicating polio demands sustained and resolute efforts from the government and the National Polio Eradication Programme, in collaboration with international partners, to cover the last mile and achieve this critical public health goal.

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