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Polio campaign targets 12 million children ahead of rainy season

[Pakistan] Vaccinators adminster the oral polio vaccine to residents in a rural Pakistani village. Pakistan is one of four countries in the world today where polio remains endemic. [Date picture taken: 02/04/2007]
(Pakistan Polio Programme)

The government of Pakistan - in collaboration with its partners at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) - launched on 19 June a campaign to immunise over 12 million children against polio, a debilitating disease mainly affecting children.

“This campaign is important to raise the immunity of children against polio ahead of the high transmission season for polio - the rainy season,” Melissa Corkum, a spokeswoman for UNICEF's polio eradication programme in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, told IRIN.

“It is critical that all children under five in these high risk districts are protected through immunisation,” Corkum said.

Her comments coincide with the launch of the three-day Sub-National Immunisation Days (SNIDS), 19-21 June, in 40 high risk districts of the country, employing over 30,000 vaccinators and working house-to-house.

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The June SNIDS - the third this year - will focus on five districts of the country’s populous Punjab province, 13 in Sindh, 13 in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and eight in Balochistan.

“Tremendous progress”

According to health experts, Pakistan has made significant progress towards the goal of eradicating polio since the launch of the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) in 1994 and has a strong chance of interrupting transmission of the virus.

In April, Pakistan’s Technical Advisory Group, a group of international and national experts, re-affirmed that Pakistan could well be the next country to stop polio, if a sufficient number of high quality campaigns - which reach all children under the age of five - were conducted.

Corkum said 85 percent of the country’s districts have been without a case of polio for almost two years, while 60 percent of all cases in 2006 came from just six districts.

Since 1998, there have been no reported cases in Pakistan's Federally Administered Northern Areas, she said, adding that Pakistani-administered Kashmir had not reported a case since 2000, while Islamabad had had no polio cases since 2003.

“Highly populous areas of the country, including central and northern Punjab, have not had a case for more than two years,” Corkum said. Punjab, with a population of 90 million, had only two cases in 2006, she said.

“Pakistan has made tremendous progress in restricting polio virus transmissions,” Federal Health Minister Mohammad Nasir Khan said.

“The number of children affected by polio has been reduced from thousands of cases when we first started this campaign, down to nine cases so far this year. This indicates that we are moving in the right direction and will reach zero transmission of the virus soon,” the minister added.

According to WHO, the world's success in eradicating polio depends on four countries where the virus remains endemic - India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s next nationwide polio campaign is 7-9 August 2007.

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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

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