PESHAWAR - Despite a number of challenges, including security threats, inaccessible areas and misconceptions, anti-polio programme is heading towards gradual success with marked decline in polio cases in the country that reported 198 in 2011, 58 in 2012 while only five polio cases have surfaced in the first quarter of this year.

In 2009, 1,604 children were affected by polio in 22 countries of the world. India was on the top with 741 polio cases while Nigeria ranked 2nd with 388 cases followed by Pakistan. Given the large number of children being crippled by polio, the international community launched massive campaign against this vaccine preventable disease.

A senior official in the Health Department while talking to TheNation said that due to the efforts made by the 22 affected countries, 19 countries, including India, successfully knocked out the disease while 217 children were affected by polio in three countries Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He said a total of 122 polio cases were reported in Nigeria, 58 in Pakistan and 37 in Afghanistan in 2012.

The official informed that fight against polio was not an easy task due to the law and order and security situation, massive displacement of population from different areas of the province and Fata, extremist tendencies and negative propaganda but the zeal and determination of the dedicated officials, workers and volunteers remained undeterred.

Several officials and volunteers, including a woman, lost their lives but due to their untiring efforts major breakthrough is achieved to secure children from this crippling disease, showing 50 per cent decline in total polio cases in the country from 10 to 5 in the first quarter of this year as compared to last year.

The official said that security of polio teams is one of the major concerns of the government and other stakeholders.

He said keeping in view the safety and security of the teams the government had formed special security committees at provincial and district levels.

In each province, he said the committees were headed by the chief secretary while CCPO and additional IGP are members of the committee. At the district level, District Police Officers (DPOs) are heading the committees. Under these special arrangements armed police escorts are provided to teams during the vaccination campaigns.

The Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) is a government-run programme and to cater to the financial requirements of this mega public health programme the country takes loan from the Islamic Bank.

Official in the Health Department clarified that against the common perception that polio is a foreign programme and is being financed by international donors, polio eradication is the prime responsibility of the government while the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) renders valuable assistance in the important sectors of communications and social mobilisation to achieve the goal of polio-free Pakistan.

To a question regarding refusals, he said that misconceptions, negative propaganda and extremist tendencies in various areas are among the major reasons for these refusals but due to effective communications and social mobilisations strategies we have made a tremendous breakthrough to reduce the refusals besides the general public, community elders, public representatives, media and especially ulema and religious scholars were taken on board to dispel these misunderstandings.

“To counter the situation the District Coordination Officer (DCO) and District Health Officer (DHOs) visit those areas from where refusals are being reported and try to cover them by raising awareness about the disease and by addressing their concerns regarding vaccine,” he said.

Fitwas from Egypt and religious leaders of different schools of thoughts have been obtained to convince people about vaccination.

International partners, including UNICEF and WHO, have been tasked by the international community to support the government in the fight against polio and they were supporting government in the communication and operations.

So far 11 polio cases have been reported in the world in 2013 out of which five are from Pakistan and Nigeria each while one case is reported in Afghanistan.

Out of five reported polio cases in the country, three are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one each from Mardan, Malakand and Bannu while one each is reported from Punjab and Sindh so far. He said that regular campaigns to eradicate the vaccine preventable disease started in 1994 in the country and ever since the programme of children passed through various ups and downs.

At one point in time we were close to eradicating the disease but due to deteriorating law and order situation in the country hike in polio cases were witnessed.

Two drops of vaccine was the only cure against the disease that leaves a child disabled for lifelong and can even cause a death in certain cases. Next NID would be held on April 15, 2013 across the country.

To cater to the security concerns of polio teams provincial security committee has been formed that is headed by Chief Secretary and CCPO and Additional IGP are members of the committee.

At the district level, DPOs are heading these committees and give clearance to teams to carry out campaign in the area.