LAHORE - The Punjab government is piloting a mobile application in seven districts to identify and vaccinate children possibly missed in polio immunisation drives.

The mobile application has been developed by the Punjab Information Technology Board with the technical input of the Emergency Operations Centre. The application, downloaded in a smart phone, has been given to the polio eradication teams in selected union councils of Lahore, Rawalpindi and five South Punjab districts.

The teams upload the picture of a child in the application along with the house number and send it to the dashboard connected with a smart phone powered with the 3G internet. Once uploaded, household data of children in various campaigns is available on the dashboard and cross-matched for verification. Any ambiguity in number of children from previous campaigns is investigated in the field.

“This application helps the supervisors monitor and supervise the teams,” says Union Council 64 Medical Officer Najma Ali. Referring to parents’ queries, she said: “Some do object to taking a picture but we explain to them very politely that it is for the benefit of their own children”.  The mobile application has several features including a ‘refusals’ column, household number and number of children.  Talking to this scribe, Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Dr Munir Ahmad sounded very optimistic about the initiative and forecast that it will help the province eradicate last pockets of virus from Punjab.

“This literally leaves no possibility of children being missed by the teams,” the EOC Coordinator Dr Munir said.

“The pictures help us keep a check on the teams and identify children who have been missed,” he said.

“The data recorded through the mobile app is monitored at multiple layers by the supervisors at the highest level and if any discrepancy is found an investigation is launched,” the EOC coordinator said adding, “the initiative, a vision of the Punjab government under the leadership of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif as well as Primary and secondary healthcare minister Kh. Imran Nazair, has helped us vaccinate missed children.” “Polio eradication partners including the Unicef have recently monitored the results of the mobile application and appreciated the initiative,” Dr Munir said.  Punjab has had no polio case in 2016 but reported one in 2017 when a four month male child was paralysed by polio in Lodhran.

Coupled with missed children, vaccinating those who move from one place to another using informal routes along with their families, are single major challenge to the province.

Such children who miss vaccination in polio campaigns and default on the routine immunization schedule are more susceptible to the polio virus. They may also be carry the virus to previously polio–free areas thus jeopardising the eradication efforts.

All leading doctors and ulema in Pakistan have jointly rallied their support for vaccination of children as the only recourse to eradication of polio and other preventable diseases.

With the support of civil society and thousands of polio frontline workers, referred to as Sehat Muhafiz, Pakistan is steadily inching towards the finish line. Only two cases have been reported in the country this year as against eight in 2016 during this point in time.