ISLAMABAD - Six new polio cases surfaced in the country on Thursday, raising serious concern over resurgence of the virus.

According to officials, out of these six polio cases, two are reported from D.G. Khan (Punjab), two from Lakki Marwat and D.I. Khan (KP), and two from Jamshoro and Kambar (Sindh).

Suspension of the anti-polio drive last year after attacks on polio teams brought damaging results for the campaign as around 250,000 children were missed from vaccination and the tally of 2019 jumped to 134 with chances of increase in number till end of ongoing month.

Officials informed The Nation that as the toll reached highest in last five years after 2014 the number of cases will increase further till end of this month.

According to the polio map available with The Nation, 306 cases were reported in 2014, while the number was decreased to 8 in 2017. However, the number increased to 12 in 2018 when interim government and later newly-formed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government led the programme.

But, 2019 remained damaging for the campaign when the government in efforts of reforming the polio programme lost the confidence of the public in some parts of the country and a resistance was faced in form of attacks on the polio workers, and the toll of polio cases reported in 2019 has reached 134.

6 more polio cases reported

In April 2019, an incident of fainting of children in Peshawar due to polio vaccine and mishandling of the situation by the authorities running the program gave loss to the campaign.

Resultantly a national campaign was suspended on last day in all provinces as 270,000 frontline polio workers were considered on risks after teams were attacked.

In October last year, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta was also forced to resign due to alleged gross irregularities in the program. 

The polio eradication programme in a year conducts three national, three sub-national and some special campaigns in a year to immunize around 40 million children in the country.

National Coordinator (NC) on Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication (EOCPE) Rana Muhammad Safdar in an exclusive talk with The Nation said that suspension of national campaign in April last year resulted in missing 250,000 children from vaccination.

“Immunity gap has been created and government is making efforts to recover from the damage,” he added.

The NC on EOCPE said that national campaign launched in December 2019 remained 99 per cent successful, however the gap created from April to December 2019 is still increasing the polio number in country.

“Number of cases reported in 2019 will increase till end of this month,” he said.

Discussing the challenges in the anti-polio drive, Dr. Rana Safdar said that authorities are still facing problems in routine immunization by communities in certain parts of the country and now is engaging local political leadership at Union Council level for successful campaigns.

He also said that earlier the Polio Eradication Programme and Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) were running separately which have been integrated now.

“The program has been ‘de-politicised’ now as team comprising all political parties’ members has been formed to look after the program and run it with coordinated efforts.

NC on EOCPE Dr. Rana Safdar also said that 40 areas have been identified to address the challenge of routine immunization with the help of local communities to improve the vaccination and cover the gap created in last year.

He also said that Type-2 virus was reported from specific regions, including Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gujranwala and vaccination will continue there in upcoming campaigns.

Dr. Safdar also said that the age limit for the vaccination is five years and has not been extended so far in the upcoming national campaigns to be held in the months of February and April this year.

“We hope to achieve 99 per cent results in upcoming national wide campaigns,” he continued.

Earlier, terming the nationwide polio vaccination campaign a first step towards making Pakistan polio free, Dr. Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, stated that results from December’s campaign show the “Pakistan Polio Programme” is now back on track. 

The SAPM was informed that 265, 000 frontline workers had vaccinated 43.9 million children under the age of five of the targeted 39.6 million children across Pakistan in five days of the campaign.

In the core reservoirs of Karachi, Peshawar, Khyber, Quetta, Pishin and Killa Abdullah the catch-up activities were extended for a day to cover children who were missed during the door-to-door vaccination. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the December campaign himself, however; the commitment and dedication to the cause of polio eradication was seen across the board as the Chief Ministers lead the campaign in all provinces and were equally supported by their respective Chief Secretaries, Provincial EOC Coordinators and District Administration.