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Polio cases on the rise in KPK: What is the way forward?

In a worrying development, the authorities have confirmed five more polio cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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News Analysis |

A few months ago there was a rise in polio cases in the province due to parents’ refusal to get their children vaccinated. Provincial government, along with the Center, is working on the matter but there are slim chances of overpowering the situation any time soon due to prevailing socio-cultural opposition.

Recently, the Taliban have issued a written warning to polio workers to stop their duties otherwise they will be responsible for any damage that happens to them. It has been creating challenges for the provincial government to address the critical situation.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta said: “It has been learnt that none of them was vaccinated during polio campaigns and routine immunisation. Unfortunately, since the incident of Peshawar [in April], we have been facing severe resistance from parents. They have kept markers at their houses and manage to avoid vaccination by marking the fingers of their children on the very first day of the polio campaign.”

There is no known cure but the disease can be prevented if children are given multiple treatments with the polio vaccine, the WHO says.

With the latest addition, the number of polio cases climbed to 53 this year, far more than the last year figure of 12. In a sharp contrast, only eight cases were confirmed in 2017. The five new victims, including two girls, belonged to Bannu, North Waziristan, and Charsadda, with the youngest of them only 22 months old.

An official of Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH), requesting anonymity, said three cases were reported from Bannu and one each from North Waziristan and Charsadda. “During investigations, it emerged that not a single child was vaccinated during polio and routine immunisation campaigns, as their parents apparently did not allow the children to be vaccinated,” he explained.

Polio: A Dangerous Disease

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Read more: Ray of hope: Pakistan’s journey towards a Polio-free country

Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus increases. Repeated immunisations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries to become polio-free. Currently, polio cases are often reported from two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — due to which the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has recommended that every person, who intends to travel abroad, has to be vaccinated at the start of their journey.

The IMB, which works on behalf of international donor agencies, issues reports regarding the performance of the countries after every six months. In November 2012, the IMB had recommended travel restrictions on Pakistan and the recommendations were implemented on May 5, 2014.

Polio Wiped out Across the World

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), polio has been all but wiped out across the world following a sustained vaccination campaign, with only 22 cases reported in 2017 against more than 350,000 in 1988. There is no known cure but the disease can be prevented if children are given multiple treatments with the polio vaccine, the WHO says.

Read more: Authorities in KPK and Sindh are determined to make Pakistan polio-free

While it has virtually been eliminated, polio remains a threat to global health because as long as a single child remains infected, the virus can easily spread into polio-free countries and unimmunised populations, according to the health body.

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