National campaign against polio

Pakistan is all set for its second nationwide polio campaign from October 2, during which almost 43 million children will be administered with Polio vaccine along with Vitamin D to boost their immune systems against deadly diseases. The health authorities have urged parents, teachers, civil society, religious scholars and tribal leaders to play their role in sensitizing the public about grave risks associated with the no-inhalation of vaccine dose which results in death or lifelong disability of young children and infants.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects children. It has not only killed millions of infants and kids so far but also caused permanent disability in the shape of organ paralyzation, impaired vision, and obstruction in movement, while it caused joint or muscle pain or fatigue in rare mild cases. Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of the two countries along with Afghanistan that failed to control the deadly infection of the Polio virus in its nation despite continuous efforts, massive government and foreign funding over the past few decades. Pakistan launched its first-ever polio eradication program in early 1994 to help end the crippling poliovirus in the country.

The nation has achieved tremendous success in reducing the number of polio cases from 20,000 to a few dozen annually, but the deadly virus still persists in certain parts of the country, particularly in KP and tribal regions adjoining the Pak-Afghan border. Pakistan Polio Laboratory at the NIH recorded 19 polio infections in the year 2022 and all patients diagnosed with polio infection were from KP’s districts including North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Lakki Marwat. So far polio infections are recurrently occurring in various parts of the country and the nation has a long way to go to achieve the goal of polio-free Pakistan.

Presently, Pakistan’s failure to control this epidemic has become a stigma for the entire nation, because the South Asian nation failed to achieve its goal despite massive global support, availability of resources, technical and medical expertise and skilled manpower, largely due to non-cooperation from the public in certain areas. There have been multiple conspiracy theories and self-coined religious biases linked to the anti-polio endeavours of the government which prompted opposition and refusal of parents to administer polio vaccines to their kids, while the fake polio vaccine campaign by the CIA to confirm Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Kohistan Havelly Abbottabad further caused doubts among the masses. Presently, the Pakistani government, and its global partners including UNICEF, the Rotary Club, the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, and other charitable organizations are vigorously pursuing this agenda and hopeful to achieve their target through concerted efforts, public awareness, and imposition of regressive anti-polio measures across the nation.

Meanwhile, the continuous failure to achieve the goal of polio-free Pakistan is causing great embarrassment for the government at the international level as backward African nations had achieved this target many years back, while Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are still embattled with poliovirus in their countries. The government has been using multiple measures to motivate parents to immunize their kids including the use of religious clerics, tribal notables, and awareness campaigns in the media but those efforts could not produce the required results. The deadly viral epidemic still exists in the country and continuously swallows precious lives and causes lifelong disabilities in children.

The government of Pakistan and Health authorities have been considering multiple administrative and legal measures against the parents refusing polio immunization to their kids while the Sindh government has recently tabled a legislation to imprison parents for up to one month if they fail to get their kids immunized against polio and eight other infectious diseases. Although such actions are awkward and rare, the people who endanger the lives of their children and cause serious health risks for the common public in contradiction to government policies are surely prosecutable due to their failure to fulfilment of their national obligations. In fact, the Immunization of children is a national and parental duty and every citizen must play his role in the accomplishment of this collective task, so Pakistan can proudly join the club of polio-free nations as early as possible.