Caretaker Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reiterated resolve to make the province polio-free. Speaking in a meeting of the National Task Force on polio eradication under the chairmanship of caretaker Prime Minister, CM Azam Khan reported that only two active cases of polio in the province are a big win for regular polio eradication drives and campaigns. However, the presence of active polio virus in Peshawar’s environmental sample is still a cause of concern and presents a challenge that needs to be overcome in the goal towards a polio-free Pakistan.
A fresh round of National Immunisation Drive has kicked off countrywide. While there is a lot of hope that we are near complete eradication of poliovirus, it is important to understand the risks that are involved. Polio eradication was a long and hard drive for Pakistan, where sometimes superstition and misperception around the polio drops and at other times, attacks on polio teams surfaced as major hurdles. Even today, the misperception that the drops are some sort of harmful Western conspiracy still thrives.
The mistrust of a segment of society, especially in far-flung areas, calls for active collaboration between various provincial departments and religious clergy. Polio eradication campaigns have to be community-friendly by all means, and this brings the role of religious clergy into the ambit. Having the support of religious scholars is as important for the success of polio drives as is the presence of police protection. In the end, it has to be a coherent campaign where all these different institutions are involved.
Risk factors assessment must be cognizant of the possibilities of virus’s transfer via movement and inflows from across the border. This might not be a big contributing factor but a factor nevertheless. So, an immunisation facility for children crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan is another important measure that should be put into effect immediately. We have come a long way in fighting the polio virus. At a time when our gains are substantial, all efforts must be directed towards zero polio cases in the country.