The Federal government on Saturday reaffirmed its commitment that the poliovirus would be eradicated from the country on a war footing and the South Asian nation would achieve a decisive victory against the epidemic very soon. According to authorities, over 44.5 million children aged five or below were immunized during the recent nationwide anti-polio campaign, while particular focus has been given to certain areas including Karachi, Peshawar, and Quetta where polio transmission is highly active and those regions act as core reservoirs of poliovirus in the country.
Whereas polio cases have also been identified in Northern Sindh and Southern. Historically, the polio program’s success has been highly dependent on vaccinating high-risk mobile populations and internally displaced persons (IDPs), who often have inconsistent access to the health system and carry diseases/viruses from one place to another due to frequent mobility and migration. Punjab in recent years Polio teams constituted by federal and provincial health departments vaccinated children through a door-to-door campaign during a week-long initiative in all 159 Districts across the country.
Historically, Pakistan joined the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1994 with the launch of the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program aimed at eradicating and containing all wild vaccine-related and sabin polioviruses in the country. Over the past two and a half decades, the government of Pakistan in collaboration with its GPEI partners including WHO, UNICEF, CDC, and others has been actively working to contain and curb the spread of poliovirus, however, those collective efforts remained short of achieving the stated goal of Polio Free Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries where the transmission of endemic wild poliovirus has not been stopped so far.
The successive governments along with their global partners have made concerted efforts to eradicate polio from our country over the past decades but cases of polio infections are still being reported in some areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Balochistan.
The government of Pakistan has used all available resources, together with the latest technologies and modern strategies to defeat the deadly virus but no cooperation from the parents in certain areas, based on misconception and delusion regarding the urgency and benefits of polio vaccination, largely resisted the government’s efforts against the poliovirus. There have been multiple conspiracy theories and self-coined religious biases linked to the anti-polio medicines and the purpose of the vaccination which prompted opposition and refusal from parents to administer polio vaccines to their kids.
Historically, continued anti-state and anti-public propaganda and false conservativeness pose serious risks to the children’s health, national interests, and the broader well-being of the public. During the decades-long anti-polio campaign, Pakistan not only invested bulk money and resources in this endeavor but over 200 polio workers and security personnel laid their lives for the sacred national cause of eradicating the deadly epidemic from the country. Presently, the government is seriously considering the adoption of legislation to penalize the parents resisting polio administration to their children by introducing harsh measures such as blocking their national IDs, freezing Bank Accounts, imposing fines, or awarding imprisonment, etc.
Presently, the government of Pakistan and its global partners have launched a fresh effort to contain poliovirus and eradicate polio infections in the country, while strict legal and punitive measures are being implemented against those who obstruct the work of the polio team or refuse to immunize children. Hopefully, the Pakistani nation will be able to achieve the status of a polio-free nation in the coming months and years.