Pakistani authorities have targeted 40mn children in the first nationwide polio vaccination drive of the year that began yesterday amid fears of a resurgence.
More than 250,000 health workers would be on the streets throughout the week to vaccinate children under the age of five, Pakistan’s health chief Zafar Mirza said.
“We have critically reviewed our performance during last campaign and worked with provincial and district teams for an even better preparedness for this nationwide vaccination drive,” he said.
Mirza added that the government was committed to reaching every last child in the country with the essential anti-polio vaccine.
Last week, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary Kazim Niaz had also said that the complete eradication of the poliovirus was the priority of the government.
The chief secretary made these remarks while inaugurating a five-day anti-polio drive at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).
The five-day anti-polio campaign is aiming to immunise more than 6.7mn KP children under the age of five years against the poliovirus in the province.
Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers would guard health workers in regions where they are routinely attacked by Islamist militants, said Shaukat Yousafzai, information minister of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Showbiz and sports stars joined the government to rally parents’ support for the drive, since the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned Pakistan that polio might become an epidemic again.
Pakistan reported 134 new cases last year, the highest number in half a decade, which prompted the WHO to warn that the progress made over the years to control polio had halted.
The polio cases peaked in Pakistan at 306 in 2014, the year when the offensives against the Taliban began, according to official statistics.
The Islamist militants opposed the vaccination campaign, calling it a conspiracy by the West to sterilise Muslim children, and killed dozens of health workers and police officers.
However, the country managed to bring the number down to just eight cases of polio in 2017 through vaccinations funded by the WHO.
Pakistan is among a handful of countries in the world where polio – an infectious disease caused by a virus that can cause paralysis – is still prevalent.
In January, it was reported that the overall tally of reported polio cases across the country had reached 134 in 2019: 91 cases in KP, 24 cases in Sindh, eight in Punjab, and 11 in Baluchistan.
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