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PAKISTAN: Government in further drive to eradicate polio


Photo: Nima Abid/WHO
A father along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan awaits to have his son vaccinated against polio. The virus remains endemic in both countries
ISLAMABAD, 11 December 2007 (IRIN) - Health officials in Pakistan have launched this year’s final push to eradicate polio in the country.

“This is the final sub-national polio immunisation campaign in 2007, targeting the high risk areas for polio,” Nima Abid, head of eradication efforts for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Pakistan, told IRIN in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

“This is an important immunisation campaign as it is critical to target these areas as we move into the low transmission season for polio,” Abid said.

A total of 14 million children under the age of five will be immunised over three days in 44 high-risk districts in the country beginning on 11 December.

Almost 35,000 vaccination teams will be deployed in a collaborative effort between the government of Pakistan, WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to WHO, the world’s success in eradicating polio depends on four countries where the virus remains endemic - India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Health experts believe the tide is turning in the latter. 
More on polio in Pakistan
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Progress

During a recent meeting of the Global Advisory Committee on Polio Eradication in Geneva, health experts said Pakistan could be the next polio-free country provided high quality campaigns targeting children in 2008 were maintained.

Particular emphasis would continue to be on targeting high-risk areas, with Pakistan undertaking four national and four sub-national immunisation campaigns in high-risk areas over the next year.

Key to success will be high quality campaigns in the first quarter of 2008, during the low transmission season for polio, say health officials.

According to UNICEF, Pakistan has 19 reported cases this year compared to 40 in 2006.

Additionally, there has been significant geographic and genetic restriction of new polio cases.

“Nearly 80 percent of the districts have been without a case for two years or more,” said Melissa Corkum, a spokeswoman for UNICEF's polio eradication programme in Islamabad.

Health authorities have achieved a major success in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and elsewhere in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in raising awareness of the campaign’s importance. They have directly engaged with tribal elders in the area, which has led to a significant drop in refusals by parents to immunise their children.

Key challenges remain

Despite the progress, there are still challenges with regard to highly mobile populations, cross border movements and insecurity.

Photo: UNICEF
Some 14 million children under the age of five will be immunised in Pakistan this week

In neighbouring Afghanistan, another case of polio has been confirmed in Helmand Province’s Naway-i-Barakzayi District, bringing to 13 the number of cases identified this year - most of them in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south - from where cross-border movement and levels of mobility continue.

In Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, the authorities have again been forced to postpone the campaign due to military operations by security forces to subdue Taliban militants in the area.

“We will start the immunisation process and administer the polio drops to children in Swat just after the military operation,” the government’s Extended Programme for Immunisation Director, Dr Jabar, was quoted as saying.

Efforts to immunise hundreds of thousands of children against polio in Swat have been on hold since October, following clashes between security forces and armed supporters of Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban religious leader fighting for the imposition of Sharia law.

ds/at/cb


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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