Despite being the first province to introduce universal health coverage under the Sehat Card Plus Program, KPK’s health program has failed to provide relief to the victims of polio. These are individuals whose spinal cords are affected, causing paralysis due to contraction of the life-threatening and disabling poliovirus.
According to a pharmacist in KPK, the card does cover artificial limbs but those who have developed permanent paralysis and are suffering from muscle weakness after contracting the virus are excluded from enjoying the benefits offered by the program. He further stated that the victims who were crippled for life were facing immense problems that need to addressed promptly. Though the KPK government was doing its best to get the children vaccinated, it should also shift some of its attention to the individuals who have been paralyzed for life due to the cruel virus, he added.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly contagious disease, which mainly targets young children. The polio virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread usually through the faecal-oral route and sometimes by a common vehicle (e.g., contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis. It is believed that this disease has plagued humans for thousands of years. However, it gained prominence and reached epidemic proportions in the 1900’s in countries which boasted of high standards of living, at a time when other life threating diseases like diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis were in decline. Due to widespread vaccination, the disease was eradicated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994. However, in 2020, polio remains endemic in two countries Afghanistan and Pakistan, with occasional spread to neighboring countries.
In 1988, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio, marking the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, led by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, and later joined by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
According to the World Health Organization (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.
Pakistan’s struggle with Polio
Since 1994, Pakistan Polio Eradication Program has been committed to ending polio virus transmission in Pakistan. The cases numbers have declined by up to 99% from the 20,000 cases that were reported in the early 1990s, due to this program. In 2020, Pakistan’s nationwide polio vaccination campaign reached 39 million children.
In 2014, however, WHO declared Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar as the world’s “largest reservoir” of endemic polio. It urged for strict action to be taken to boost vaccination and contain the spread of the virus. KPK government has since then taken serious measures to curb the spread of the infectious disease including the vaccination drives under the Sehat ka Insaaf initiative PTI when it was in power last time. The Sehat Ka Insaaf initiative was widely acclaimed by the UN agencies.
The polio vaccination activities in the province did come to a halt owing to pandemic but kicked off again in July 2020.
Though the KPK government is striving to make the province polio-free, it also needs to facilitate the victims of the deadly disease who have been left immobilized for life by making them eligible for benefits under the Sehat Card Program.