Pakistan and Afghanistan, two countries that still have the disease that cripples children, on Sunday (24/10) marked World Polio Day amid excitement and hope for eradicating the disease.
The two neighboring countries are a bloc where the disease is endemic. However, each country has detected only one case of polio in 2021, compared to 53 cases in Afghanistan and 81 cases in Pakistan in October 2020. According to the World Health Organization (World Health Organization/WHO), the number of cases in 2021 is the lowest number in history.
The polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan has faced challenges, particularly over the past two years due to vaccine doubts and the COVID-19 pandemic which led to a five-month hiatus in the polio immunization campaign that began in March 2020.
Aziz Memon of Rotary International – the agency that coordinates polio eradication programs globally – told Mouab, “we now have reason to be optimistic.” This, he said, was due to the declining trend of reported polio cases and negative environmental samples showing “positive performance” in eradicating polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Memon stressed the need to take advantage of what he described as an “unprecedented” opportunity to stop polio transmission.
“We are currently in a season of high polio outbreaks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so at no time is it more important to ensure that immunization and polio surveillance are a top priority, especially as the pandemic continues to threaten immunization programs around the world,” he stressed.
Memon added that restrictions on public movement to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were one of the main factors that led to the recent decline in polio cases in Pakistan.
“The suspension of public transportation between and within the city during the lockdown policy has restricted many nomadic families from traveling to other cities in search of job opportunities,” he said.
Memon said the resumption of mass polio vaccination campaigns and the natural immunity brought about by polio outbreaks in previous years also contributed to the current reduction in cases.
Earlier this month the Pakistani government reported that a third vaccination campaign in mid-September had successfully administered polio drops to more than 40 million children across the country.
Meanwhile, the WHO’s house-to-house vaccination program for children under five years old announced last week that it would restart vaccination on November 8. The polio vaccination program, the first in more than three years, was carried out after obtaining approval from the Taliban authorities.
WHO Director for Polio Eradication, Dr. Hamid Jafari expressed his joy at the continued decline in the number of children suffering from this dangerous disease.
Rotary International’s GPEI Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed in 1988. Since then the program has succeeded in reducing the spread of polio outbreaks by more than 99.9 percent worldwide and immunizing nearly three billion children against polio, preventing more than 19.4 percent of cases of disability.
However, Rotary International estimates “hundreds of thousands of children will be paralyzed” if polio is not completely eradicated within the next 10 years. [em/jm]