National Coordinator Polio Eradication Initiative Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar has expressed optimism that polio will be fully eradicated from Pakistan by next year due to dedicated efforts at the national and provincial levels.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Pakistan’s News and Current Affairs Channel, he said 275,000 polio workers have been recruited and trained for the latest polio immunization campaign. He said 100,000 troops of law enforcing agencies are also assisting in this task. Dr. Safdar said 40 million children under five years of age will be administered polio drops during the current drive.

National Coordinator on Polio Eradication Initiative said COVID-19 outbreak affected the frequency of polio immunization campaigns in the country as resources were diverted for the global pandemic. However, with the receding cases of coronavirus in the country, the anti-polio work has again started.

Giving history of immunization efforts against the crippling disease, Dr. Rana Safdar said in Pakistan dedicated efforts to curtail this disease started in 1994 when annually 20,000 children were becoming victim of this crippling ailment. He said Pakistan and Afghanistan are only two countries in the world where the virus still persists.

National Coordinator on Polio Eradication said initial symptoms of polio are unspecific. However, after some days the parents notice that some limbs of their children have stopped working. He said polio is a fast communicable disease caused by a virus that enters into the human body through mouth. The virus is mostly found in unhygienic food and water and in contaminated areas. It grows very fast in intestines and then targets and paralyzes the nervous system. The virus typically affects motor neurons in the nervous system, leading to disabling of a body part. In certain cases, this disease could also lead to death. Dr. Safdar explained that this virus only affects humans in all life forms. The reason is special interceptors in our intestines where it finds suitable environment and starts multiplying.

Emphasizing the importance of frequent washing of hands and using masks, he said these two practices can help protect against a number of diseases, including polio.

The expert said a sensitive surveillance system is in place in Pakistan to detect polio cases so that effective measures could be taken to help them.  

Appreciating the cooperation of Pakistani nation, Dr. Safdar said over one million vulnerable children have been prevented from this virus in the country due to successive immunization campaigns.

He said 2019 was a very challenging year for us when the virus resurged and 147 children were affected in the country. Federal government in collaboration with all provincial stakeholders reviewed in detail the causes of this resurgence and made plans to plug the existing gaps. Besides, a potent campaign on social media was also launched to educate people and dispel any negative propaganda and fake news against the immunization efforts.  

On a question regarding immunization to those children who are not in schools, he said local stakeholders, including teams at Union Council level, are being involved in reaching all children. Dr. Rana Safdar said teams are also deployed at bus stops, train stations, markets and other places where people congregate to administer polio drops to children less than five years of age.

Appreciating the role of polio workers, he said they are working hard and with dedication to stop the spread of polio disease even in harsh weather and terrain and doing the national service.