By Robin Gomes
The Pakistani government on Monday launched a week-long anti-polio campaign regarded as the nation’s “final push” to eradicate the crippling disease, says a Pakistani health official.
Dr. Rana Safdar, the campaign's national coordinator, said the campaign was launched on Monday amid tight security in 89 districts and towns with a total of 110,000 health workers who will fan out to vaccinate 19.2 million children under 5 years of age.
Poliomyelitis or polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus which invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle such as contaminated water or food and multiplies in the intestine.
One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
Polio is still endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Pakistan regularly carries out anti-polio drives despite threats from the Taliban who claim the campaign is a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
The country has been battling polio for the past several years and is close to completely eradicating the disease. The number of cases declined from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015, 20 in 2016 and eight in 2017.
But with just three cases reported this year, all from Balochistan, Pakistan is close to completely eradicating the disease.
In Punjab, the campaign will be carried out in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur, Faisalabad, Multan, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalpur districts.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about 4.5 million children up to 5 years of age will be administered anti-polio drops, during the campaign.
Similarly in Balochistan, anti-polio drops will be administered to more than 1.7 million children.
Safdar says the campaign will last for four days in some areas.
99% fall in world polio
A country must have no cases for three consecutive years in order to be considered to have eradicated polio by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the WHO, the number of polio cases worldwide has fallen by more than 99 per cent since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases then to 22 reported cases in 2017.
Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations.
Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.