Nationwide anti-polio drive begins

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The first national immunization campaign of the year begins across the country on Monday, to vaccinate children under five years of age against the crippling disease of polio.

According to official sources, over 100,000 trained and dedicated “Sehat muhafiz” are taking part in the vaccination drive to inoculate the targeted children at their doorstep. On this occasion, Minister for National Health Services Abdul Qadir Patel said Pakistan has made great strides in the fight against polio, reducing the virus circulation to only one small part of the country in Southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He said the country is quite close to elimination of polio virus. Coordinator of the National Emergency Operation Centre Dr. Shahzad Baig said high-risk districts will be top priority during the anti-polio campaign. In Punjab, a five-day anti-polio campaign began in all districts today, like other parts of the country. The health authorities have set a target of vaccinating more than 22 million children up to the age of five years. A total of 84,500 mobile teams, comprising of two lac polio workers are in the field. The drive will continue till 20th of this month.

While no new case has been reported in Pakistan so far this year, the highly infectious wild poliovirus paralyzed 20 children last year. That compares to just one infection reported in 2021.

National eradication program officials said that more than 360,000 health workers would deliver polio drops to at least 44.2 million children across 156 districts during the five-day campaign.

They noted that children would also be administered an additional vitamin A supplement to boost their immunity against infectious diseases. The 20 polio cases in Pakistan in 2022 were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, mostly in its violence-hit North Waziristan district on the Afghan border.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,800 police personnel have been deployed to provide security to 765 polio teams during anti-polio campaign kicked off here on Monday. A police spokesman said senior police officers have also been deployed with the teams.

To ensure security of the teams, the police personnel were also patrolling in their respective areas, he added. Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations)WaseemRiaz said that foolproof security arrangements were finalized for the security of the anti-polio teams.

He said all available resources would be utilized for the security of the polio teams in Rawalpindi district.

An official statement quoted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as saying on Sunday the resurgence of cases has raised concerns among Pakistan’s global partners, including the World Health Organization and other stakeholders.

The previous nationwide polio campaign in Pakistan was organized last August but was disrupted by catastrophic floods triggered by erratic summer monsoon rains.

Authorities later carried out special polio drives in flood-affected districts and vaccinated children against the virus there.

Pakistan has repeatedly come close to eradicating polio but long-running propaganda in conservative rural areas that the vaccines cause sterility in children, coupled with deadly militant attacks on vaccinators, have set back the mission. A Polio worker administrating polio vaccine drops to kid during an anti-polio campaign.