Pakistan launches vaccination plan amid spike in polio cases



 Some 2,60,000 health professionals are taking part in a campaign launched, here on Monday, to immunise over 39.5 million Pakistani children after more than 100 polio cases were reported this year.

"A national level campaign has been launched in four provinces in addition to Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan," Zulfiqar Babakhel, manager for media affairs at the National Operations Centre of Polio, told Efe news agency.

There has been 104 cases of the disease that mainly affects children in 2019. In the previous four years, there were only 12, 8, 20 and 54 cases. "It's the highest figure since 2014 when there were 306 cases," Babakhel said.

He blamed cultural factors for the problem in combating polio. "Some parents would say it's a western agenda to control population and some would term it anti-Islamic," Babakhel said. Many feared it would cause infertility, he added.

In April a rumour across social media claimed that several children had become ill due to the vaccine. It led to thousands of panicky parents flocking to hospitals in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan.

After this, several vaccination teams were attacked, killing six people. Since then, authorities monitor social media to prevent any fresh rumour. "We are more organised with better security arrangements," Babakhel said.

Fundamentalists too have been against the anti-polio campaign and have killed nearly 100 professionals. "Though the attacks have declined in recent years the army has been deployed in sensitive areas," Babakhel said.

Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, with 21 cases this year, are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

In November, the World Polio Eradication Initiative of the World Health Organisation said national teams and UN agencies had lost control over the polio eradication programmes in these countries.

In the case of Pakistan, the organisation said, "2019 has been an annus horribilis for the polio programme and a year of triumph for the polio virus."IANS