'Why isn't Pakistan polio-free?'.
Byline: Babar Bin Atta - Islamabad
APROPOS the opinion piece 'Why isn't Pakistan polio-free?' (July 20).
While Pakistan remains one of the last two polio-endemic countries in the world, let us not forget that the country has made major strides resulting in massive decline in polio cases from approximately 20,000 every year in the early 1990s to only eight cases in 2017 and 12 cases last year. This progress clearly indicates that our strategies have been working and we know this because we collect and analyse data from multiple data sources. However, as the writer rightly points out, this year has unfortunately seen a resurgence of polio cases with 45 cases reported.
One of the most intractable reasons why Pakistan has not yet eradicated polio has been refusals by parents and caregivers to immunise their children. Such refusals are often the product of 'polio fatigue' where communities that are deprived of many basic services such as health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and grow weary of repeated knocks at the door for polio activities. The spread of misinformation and propaganda has stirred up mistrust in the programme.
Massive population movements across the borders with Afghanistan and within the country, an inadequate delivery of routine immunisation services, amongst others, have contributed to the currently expanding epidemiology.
According to the writer, in the heart of Pakistan's persistent failure to eradicate polio lies the lack of serious analysis to determine reasons for the poor performance of the eradication programme, lack of an appropriate strategy based on this analysis, and blind overreliance on antiquated vaccination drives. This could not be further from the truth. In Pakistan, we conduct extremely detailed analysis and continue to revisit our strategies to respond to any challenges, while duly implementing the recommendations of international expert monitoring bodies.
We have also revised our house-to-house vaccination campaign calendar to space out the campaigns with at least a six-week buffer. We all agree that more has to be done to close the gaps and turn the tide toward polio eradication in Pakistan. While challenges exist, the commitment to end polio in Pakistan remains strong.