Situation, if not fully soothing, is not depressing as well as it was in 2014. Year 2014 was a disastrous for Pakistan as POLIO cases rapidly emerged and reached to alarming figure of 306; as a result international community start avoiding our citizens, imposed travel sanctions and taking two drop of POLIO vaccine declared mandatory for Pakistani international travelers. International community placed Pakistan as POLIO exporter along Afghanistan and Nigeria. Nigeria performed marvelously well and within a year compelled WHO to remove it from endemic list and it was done in Sep 2015. Pakistan and Afghanistan are still waiting for that glory which is perhaps not too far.
After disastrous year of 2014, Pakistani polio managers rearranged themselves and a visible positive impact emerged as POLIO cases were dropped to 54 from 306 in 2015. This momentum continues in 2016 and now at the end of 2016 only16 Polio cases are reported so far, that seems lesser cases in the days to come.Punjab, GilgitBaltastan and Azad Kashmir with no case, Baluchistan with only one.Whereas KPK is on top with eight patients, Five in Sind and Fata with Two cases. Decreasing number of Polio cases in Fata shows we are defeating this evil. KPK is required to come with more efforts with Sind as well. Security must be insured for vaccinators to curb this menace.
Chairperson Prime Minister’s monitoring and coordination cell Ayesha Raza Farooq is determine and confidently heading with clear strategy to eradicate this evil from Pakistani society.” Political commitment of the government is clearly visible and has a vital contribution to control the transmission of POLIO virus’’ she statedduring conversation with me,” Along with political will and interest at higher level towards POLIO, paradigm shift in strategy is also playing key role in yielding positive results” She added. When asked what is the shift in strategy? She replied “We set up Emergency operation centers (EOC) at district level for monitoring and best coordination among all stake holders. Now we are focusing on children that remain missing in immunization campaigns. We have started counting on such children.
Ayesha Raza‘s voice was getting vigorous as she was describing key steps taken by this government after taking charge of this tough portfolio. She told that ” independent monitoring campaign has been started to check real time information about missed child during polio campaigns and data support centers have been set up in high risk districts”. She stated ‘’security has been strengthen for POLIO vaccinators and first time in Pakistan attackers of POLIO teams start getting justice and rest being taken to task” Inject able vaccine also playing a vital role in eradication of POLIO “She added.
In 2014 FATA was very fertile region to produce POLIO transmission with highest (179) number of cases and second in 2015 with total 16 cases but in current year FATA is looking more blessed region with only two case this year. We can link this blessing of FATA with ongoing Zarb-e-Azab operation in FATA. Operation is playing a tremendous role in vaccine campaigns in FATA region, Pak Army is instrumental in eradicating POLIO and this campaign is getting full support from Pak Army in this regards.
I talked to Saira Afzal Tarer, Minister of state for health services, I asked her when Pakistan will be POLIO free? She was hopeful to say that government is on it with its full capacity and efforts are fruitful, POLIO cases are decreasing gradually,” We have full faith that soon we will be in position to bar transmission of POLIO in Pakistan” Saira was of the view that factually speaking Pakistan could not be POLIO free until the menace of polio was not eliminated from Afghanistan. It is hard fact that bordering region is the main source of POLIO transmission and international donors and other technical agencies should take task of Afghanistan as serious as that of Pakistan.
I asked another stakeholder of POLIO eradication, The Rotary Club. Aziz Memon is kind, generous and very active Rotarian leader, basedin Karachi. He is chairman POLIO Plus committee of Pakistan Chair. He thinks coming four months are very important to control transmission “Our programme is very much on track, we need to concentrate on the coming 4 months of low season transmission, we need to keep an eye on cross border migration from Afghanistan. Mr. Aziz also urges Government to do more,” A little more ownership by the Government and we will be able to stop transmission” He concluded.
It is fact that Pakistan is winning her war against POLIO. Although, Pakistan is doing a lot yet many miles to go to root it out from our society. Pakistan’s efforts are also lauded by international stakeholders.
Thomas R Frieden, Chairman POLIO oversight board wrote a letter to Pakistan citing appreciations for efforts to defeat POLIO. He wrote “In Pakistan, continuous community-protected vaccination (CCPV) is a key strategy to reduce the number of unvaccinated children in high-risk districts. CCPV reaches 2 million children in the most difficult areas”
Frieden also stressed that eradication of POLIO is not last job but a process and continues process.” “The world is significantly closer to eradicate polio than ever before in human history, but eradication is not a foregone conclusion. Unless there is continued community engagement and accelerated programme improvement, the real risk that eradication may slip from our grasp remains, resulting in avoidable disability, paralysis, and deaths among children for years to come”. He concludes and that’s very logical as well for all of us. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and put our faith and support them who are busy saving our children for future.
Thoughts and determination of Polio workers always give me strength and hope as well that like India and all other SAARC countries Pakistan will also be able to defeat this enemy of our children. Farah Deba, a polio vaccinator from Peshawar says’’ “I have received threats on numerous occasions while my husband too has been warned of serious consequences and as a result my family wants me to stop working for polio eradication. However, I am and will remain committed to this cause. Somebody needs to get the job done and I enjoy doing it.