Karachi: The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), recently released a statement, noting that polio program has deteriorated in the country, despite carrying out over 100 rounds of vaccinations in the past decade.
The report noted that in 2018, with only 12 cases detected all year, the polio program seemed to be on the brink of eradicating the poliovirus. In contrast, in 2019, as many as 135 cases were reported from across the country. The provincial data for 2019 showed that 91 polio cases were reported from KP, 25 from Sindh, 11 from Baluchistan, and eight from Punjab.
Unfortunately, the International Monitoring Board (IMB) had declared the polio program and the importance of delivering the polio vaccine as a “political football” in the country. It also observed that there was a lack of political unity behind polio resurgence in the country, said the PMA. Pakistan remained under a polio-linked travel restriction imposed by the World Health Organization due to which, since 2014, every Pakistani traveling abroad had to carry a polio vaccination certificate.
The PMA said that they had already warned the government to pay full attention to the polio program. The weakening of the program could result in us face more traveling restrictions. “Unfortunately, our fears turned out to be true,” said PMA.
It is pertinent to mention here that the United States recently generated a Level 2 travel alert for Pakistan and other polio-endemic Asian countries following the outbreak of the crippling disease, declaring the life-time booster dose for adults mandatory during the period of restrictions imposed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The alert had been generated on the recommendations of the US Federal Agency’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stop the spread of the virus to other states. The World Health Organization recommended that such countries required its residents and long-term (four weeks or more) visitors to show proof of polio vaccination before leaving the country. Notably, the WHO extended travel restrictions on Pakistanis following the recent outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) and wild polio-virus type 1 (WP1) cases.
The PMA had been expressing and guiding the government to work with all stakeholders, political parties, and religious leaders to eliminate polio from the country. “We previously suggested the government to form a special parliament joint committee on polio and include members from all political parties in the committee,” said PMA.
The PMA also requested the government to deal with this menace on a priority basis and declare polio an emergency in the country. The PMA believed that a massive awareness campaign through print, electronic, and social media should be initiated. “The government will have to run a strong campaign to let people know what polio is and what its consequences are. People should be made aware of the importance of the polio vaccine; they should particularly be convinced that the vaccine is very effective for the eradication of polio and is not harmful in any way. The goal is to remove all the misconceptions about polio drops from the public’s minds. The message should be delivered to the public in a manner that compels them to take their children to the vaccine centers for polio drops themselves instead of relying on polio campaigns. Political and religious leaders, NGOs, teachers, and family physicians all should play their due role in the eradication of the poliovirus from Pakistan,” noted the PMA.