Health officials in Pakistan have launched a major effort to immunise more than 33 million children under five against polio, a debilitating disease mainly affecting children. Challenges
“This is the first of four nationwide campaigns this year and another sign of our commitment to eradicating the virus’s spread,” Mazhar Nisar, health education adviser for Pakistan’s Health Ministry, told IRIN in Islamabad.
Starting on 22 January and lasting three days, over 85,000 vaccination teams nationwide are being deployed to administer the oral polio vaccine (OPV) as part of collaborative efforts between the government of Pakistan, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
According to WHO, the world’s success in eradicating polio depends on four countries where the virus remains endemic - India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2007, there were 31 confirmed cases of polio in Pakistan, including 11 in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), 12 in Sindh, seven in Balochistan and one in the country’s populous Punjab Province.
In addition to ongoing opposition by some residents of conservative NWFP to have their children vaccinated (believing the vaccine drops make them impotent), growing insecurity throughout the country is fast becoming a major concern.
In the last round of polio campaigns in 2007, over 135,000 children were reportedly missed in Pakistan’s now volatile Swat Valley after clashes between militants and security forces in the area.
With insecurity now increasing in the wake of the assassination of the former prime minister and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, on 27 December, similar results could well be seen this time around. “It’s too early to say, but obviously this is a major concern,” one aid worker said.
According to one report cited in the local press over the weekend, an estimated 140,000 children in Kurram Agency, 315,000 in Swat Valley, and 40,000 in other areas could miss out during this week’s campaign due to problems of accessibility.
“The inability of the polio vaccination teams to reach eligible children in the conflict-ridden areas is not a failure of the Ministry of Health or the provincial or districts departments of health because one cannot expect them to risk their lives,” one article in the Pakistani daily, The News, said, calling on the authorities to create a conducive environment for vaccination work.
Yet despite the problems, the government appears to be resolute in its endeavours.
Speaking on the eve of the campaign, Caretaker Federal Minister for Health Ejaz Rahim told the media the government had placed a strong emphasis on improving the campaign’s quality to reach every Pakistani child.
“Active and visible commitment from political leaders, tribal leaders, religious leaders, the private sector, teachers, health workers, the media and parents are important to reach every child,” Rahim said, noting that all provinces and areas were fully committed to the campaign’s success.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions