Islamabad - Polio paralysed 217 children this year in Pakistan as the number is nearly four times higher than the cases the country had reported last year, becoming a biggest threat to eradication of the deadly disease in the world.

Dr Zubair Mufti, World Health Organisation programme for polio eradication coordinator, disclosed this while addressing a press conference held by the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Thursday.

The PIMA organised the event on World Polio Day commemorated worldwide on October 24 to raise public awareness about the deadly virus and garner support for eradication efforts.

Dr Zubair said that Nigeria and Afghanistan despite facing insurgencies and warlike situation have controlled the disease to some extent as both countries have reported only 6 and 12 cases respectively.

“Somalia has controlled the virus twice despite all odds. African continent is also heading towards gaining polio free status,” he shared, adding Pakistan is the only country left in the world where incidence of polio is seeing a rise and exporting this disease to other countries’.

“Being a responsible and member state of United Nations Pakistan needs to utilise its entire machinery in coordination with the polio eradication partners to conduct good quality campaigns during low transmission season-December to April- when the vaccine works the best,” he stressed.

He highlighted that besides security situation there are management issues as well and if good quality campaigns are launched in North and South Waziristan, Peshawar, Karachi, Bara the situation can be far better. “We have to access the children who have remained inaccessible for the last two-and-a-half-year in North and South Waziristan. They have equal rights of vaccination and healthy life as the children of other areas,” Dr Zubair added. 

He said that out of the reported number, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) has reported 141, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa 43, Sindh 19, Balochistan 6, and Punjab 3. And 80 per cent of the cases are reported from Fata and KP. 

Dr Zubair was of the view that ‘Sehat Ka Insaaf’ vaccination programme in Peshawar has not been that affective due to immunity gap and its proximity to Fata as cases have appeared despite the vaccination campaigns.

He commended that about 0.7 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of all ages who left North Waziristan due to ongoing military operation were vaccinated against the disease in the camps, moreover those who were travelled to other areas were immunised but there is a need to start immunisation drives inside North and South Waziristan as soon as possible for complete eradication of the virus.

Executive Director of Federation of Islamic Medical Association Jordan Prof Aly Mishal remarked that 99 per cent of the countries are free from the disease and only three Muslim dominant countries are standing in the way of complete eradication of the virus from the face of the world because of some myths circulated by some elements.

“The need is to get in touch with people in rural areas to dispel the myths and misconceptions created by medical and non-medical actors,” he added. 

Other representatives of Pima, Pakistan Pediatrics Association and other bodies said recent data from a Harvard University poll shows that 95 per cent of parents in Pakistan want polio workers to vaccinate their children and accept the vaccine when it is offered.

They urged local leaders, media, educational institutions, and civil society to work to dispel myths and rumours about polio vaccines, disseminate research-based information on the safety of the vaccines to the public and encourage families to seek vaccination services.

They stressed to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the multi-factorial challenge.