polio pakistan health
A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign at a slum area in Karachi on June 7, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan launched the latest nationwide polio vaccination drive on Monday in Islamabad. The immunisation campaign aims to reach over 33 million children under the age of five across the country’s 124 districts.

This is the third nationwide anti-polio campaign during the current year. The first two immunisation campaigns in January and April 2021 reached more than 80 million children.

More than 220,000 polio workers will go from door to door during the current five-day immunisation campaign. The vaccination teams will visit house-to-house, strictly observing COVID-19 health guidelines such as the use of masks and sanitisers and maintaining safe distance, to ensure the protection of Pakistani children from the crippling poliovirus while keeping both the frontline workers and parents safe.

“Pakistan has made substantial progress towards polio eradication during the last 8 months,” an official statement said. “The intensity and geographic scope of poliovirus transmission has declined significantly” as only 1 wild polio case has been reported as compared to 54 cases during the same period last year.

Pakistan has so far reported one wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) case in 2021 as compared to 84 cases in 2020. At least eight cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) have been documented this year – a significant drop from the 135 cases reported in 2020.

PM’s advisor on health affairs Dr Faisal Sultan said that despite the “complex challenges” posed by the COVID 19 pandemic,” the health officials were “optimistic about controlling polio before the end of 2022.” However, he warned against lowering the guard, urging that “we need to double our efforts and drive harder than ever if we are to truly protect Pakistan’s, and the world’s children from this devastating disease.”

Pakistan and its neighbouring Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio cases are being reported. Polio is a highly infectious and incurable disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect children, as the virus has no cure.

Polio eradication efforts led by the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme (UAE PAP) has helped provide 508 million doses of the polio vaccine to over 86 million children in Pakistan over seven years as part of a global effort to rid the world of polio.