By Fakhar Alam
PESHAWAR, Oct 24 (APP): Once in spotlight in world for being a country of polio virus reservoir following reports of about 20,000 cases per year in early 1990, Pakistan is now being widely acclaimed after reaching very close to the finish line of zero polio cases this year.
Being one of the two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world along with Afghanistan, Pakistan has witnessed a significant decline in polio cases in recent years where only one case was reported from Balochistan on January 27, 2021 courtesy to the regular door to door vaccination campaigns due to coordinated efforts of the government and its allied partners.
Since the official launch of Polio Eradication Program in 1994, Pakistan has made significant progress towards stopping of polio virus transmission and boosting children immunity through safe vaccination and is heading to achieve polio free status as no case was reported from Punjab, KP, Sindh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan this year.
“Except one polio case detected in Balochistan on January 27, 2021, no case has been reported from any part of the country, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir this year, which is a matter of great pride for us” said Sarfaraz Khan Afridi, National Professional Officer, Provincial Emergency Operations (EOC) Centre, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Talking to APP, he said 80 polio cases were reported in 2020 including 13 from Punjab, 22 each from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 23 from Balochistan and no case was reported from Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and Islamabad. “The last polio case in Islamabad and Gilgit Baltistan was reported on September 27, 2008 and February 13, 2017 and since then no positive case was detected in these regions,” he said.
In Pakistan, he said eight cases were reported in 2017, 12 in 2018, 147 in 2019, 80 in 2020 and only one case in 2021. A total of 37 districts in Pakistan were infected in 2020 and only one district this year in Balochistan. Similarly, 14 cases were reported in 2017, 21 in 2018, 29 in 2019, 56 in 2020 and one case on January 1, 2021 in Afghanistan.
Dr Sarfraz Afridi said Pakistan and Afghanistan were the only two polio endemic countries remaining in world where wild polio virus was still circulating and hitting the unvaccinated children. Wild poliovirus (WPV) type-I is still circulating in these two endemic countries while its type-2 has completely been eliminated in 1999, he said, adding type-3 last case was reported in 2012.
In order to eradicate WPV Type-1, a five-day anti-polio campaign is underway in 13 KP’s districts include Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera, Mardan, Swabi, Mohmand, Khyber, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Tank, North Waziristan and South Waziristan where 3.1 million children would be vaccinated with the help of 15,163 teams including 13581 mobile, 860 fixed, 670 transit, and 52 roaming by October 25. The vaccinators were deployed at railway stations, bus stands and other public places for vaccination of all migrated and moveable children.
Dr Afridi said polio has completely been eradicated from 122 countries including an earlier endemic India and Nigeria that were now officially declared polio free on March 27, 2014 and February 25, 2020 respectively by the WHO.
Following report of 350,000 polio cases from 125 endemic countries in 1998, the World Health Assembly expressed strong resolve to eradicate polio from the globe and today the entire world except the said two endemic countries, were declared polio free. As result of global polio eradication program and government determined efforts of the member countries including Pakistan, the number of polio cases were reduced to only two (one each) in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2021.
Being a highly contagious disease, he said “polio virus invades the nervous system of children and spreads through feco-oral route. One in 200 infections leads to permanent paralysis and its victim even can’t move parts of his body and even causes death.”
Dr Sarfraz said anti polio vaccine was the best available and safe option to protect our children. “Every year, the vaccines prevent two to three million deaths of children and can save additional two million subject to improvement of global coverage.”
He said over 100 million children were being immunized every year before their first birthday, adding around 24 million children under one-year age i.e. 20 percent, were not being reached with vaccines due to various reasons. The intensified vaccinations campaigns had resulted 74 pc reductions in measles deaths globally during 2000-2007, he added.
Dr Sarfraz said oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) were weakening and killing poliovirus, saying the former had saved over five million children from permanent paralysis. He said OPV was declared safe and ‘Halal’ by Islamic leaders and institutions all over the world including Al-Azhar University, the Grand Mufti of Saudia Arabia and Majelis Council of Ulema of Indonesia besides endorsed by Darul Uloom Deoband, Imam of Masjid Aqsa (Baitul Muqadas) and others prominent muftis from all schools of thought in Pakistan.
Dr Imtiaz Ali Shah, EOC’s Technical Focal Person said eradication of WPV-I was still a challenge due to evolving situation in Afghanistan. Efforts is underway to stop transmission of WPV-I in the remaining reservoirs in the pandemic region besides completely eradicating vaccine–derived polio-virus (VDPV2) through focused, intensified and coordinated efforts under the Federal Government’s national emergency action plan (NEAP).
Besides holding of additional immunization campaigns and ensuring provision of social and behavioral change communication support to enhance vaccines’ acceptance, he said the entire polio eradication programs were being monitored by high level task forces and oversight committees at central, provincial, districts and tehsils levels.
Coordinator EOC and Additional Secretary Health, Abdul Basit said effective liaison among EPI, community and media was imperative to counter propaganda against polio vaccines. He said owing to the government ownership and effective liaison with line departments, most of the operational and communication challenges in the program have been addressed.