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Even a single polio case be taken seriously: PM

Even a single polio case be taken seriously: PM

ISLAMABAD: Even a single case of polio in the country should be taken seriously and no effort should be spared to eradicate the disease, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said on Friday.

High mobility rates and the existence of polio reservoirs across the border were among the major challenges faced by Pakistan in rooting out polio, “but we are fully determined to overcome them”, Mr Abbasi said while presiding over a meeting of the National Task Force (NTF) on Polio Eradication.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir and representatives from across the country and international organisations also attended the meeting.

Samples from Islamabad and Rawalpindi still testing positive

Ayesha Raza Farooq, the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication, told the meeting that the incidence of polio had been significantly reduced as only three cases had so far been reported this year compared to 306 in the entire 2014.

The hot spots for polio identified during the meeting were Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

“There was a consensus during the meeting that there can be political differences between the parties, but we are united over the issue of polio,” Ms Farooq told Dawn.

“Though the last case of polio was reported from Karachi in 2016, there are chances that a new case can be reported any time because of the city’s huge population,” she said. “No case has been reported from Islamabad [this year], but sewerage samples are continuously testing positive [for poliovirus].”

The participants suggested that more attention should be given to the Expanded Programme on Immunisation to ensure that every child gets vaccinated.

The meeting was informed that no polio case had been reported from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since July last year. Similarly, Karachi and interior Sindh have also remained polio-free since February 2016 and November 2016, respectively.

It is believed that Pakistan has now reached close to eradicating the crippling disease as only three cases have been reported this year.

Dr Rana Safdar, who heads the National Emergency Operation Centre on Polio, told Dawn that as the low transmission season starts from September, as many as nine campaigns will be held; of them, four or five will be national campaigns and the remaining will be targeted.

Poliovirus remains less active from September to May because of low temperature due to which it can be eradicated easily.

Another issue raised during the meeting was that in the Afghan province adjacent to the Quetta block, there was an issue of accessibility due to which as many as five cases have been reported from there.

“We need to ensure that every child coming from Afghanistan get vaccination, but those who come from informal ways cannot be vaccinated,” Dr Safdar said.

“We are trying to ensure that the children in Pakistani areas get vaccine during every campaign so that their immunity level would increase,” he said.

On a question why poliovirus has been continuously reported positive in environmental samples from Rawalpindi and Islamabad, he said that according to a survey people coming from southern Punjab and southern KP were responsible for bringing virus in the twin cities.

“We have decided to give more focus on the two regions during the next polio campaign starting from Sept 18,” he said.

The meeting was also attended by Technical Advisory Group Chairman Dr Jean Marc Olive, Un­icef’s Country Representative Angela Kearny and Unicef Team Leader Dr John Agbor.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2017

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