IN recent times, Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts have witnessed much improvement. From more than 300 reported polio virus cases in 2014 to 54 in 2015, and only 14 this year so far, the decrease is attributed to coordinated national immunisation programmes and the surveillance of high-risk populations. On Monday, a three-day nationwide polio vaccination campaign began. The goal: immunising 37m children under the age of five, with 41m doses of vaccines to be distributed. With more than 100,000 door-to-door vaccination teams, this network of eradicators, working in a low-transmission period, are set to vaccinate over 95pc of Pakistan’s target population. If undeterred, they could essentially eradicate the virus by the end of this year.
However, while currently 16,000 in number, there must be more community volunteers to work as catalysts changing mindsets regarding vaccinations in the tribal areas. Even though health officials are confident about polio prevention and eradication, meticulous planning abilities, including vaccine distribution, augmented by multiple immunisation drives to target endemic reservoirs, and abundant political will are all imperative to success. It must be ensured that there is watertight security as militants often target vaccination programmes — for example, an attack earlier this year in Karachi killed seven policemen guarding a polio team. High-risk migrant communities inside the country and across the border in Afghanistan must also be vaccinated through sound micro-planning. Beset with challenges, including the difficulty in reaching every child, misconceptions about vaccinations, and security threats, anti-polio drives can only report success when they are focused on comprehensive government-led, community-specific plans. Deserving of mention as the force spearheading eradication programmes on the ground, are the scores of vaccinators and their police protectors; their tenacity at conquering this wretched virus is unreservedly noble. For once on the right track, the government must demonstrate its resolve to make that final push to reach the zero mark for polio eradication — because our children deserve healthy lives. Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2016