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Despite spending $5bn over 27 yrs, Pak’s polio-free dream remains elusive

Islamabad, May 3, 2022- Despite spending $5 billion during the last 27 years, the dream of a polio-free Pakistan remained elusive with the emergence of two back-to-back polio cases in April, the media reported.

The factors responsible for denting the efforts to achieve the milestone ranged from deep mistrust in some sections of the society regarding the anti-polio campaign to poor law and order situation, Geo News reported.

Experts have described a deep mistrust among Pashtun communities living on the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan against Oral Polio Vaccination (OPV) drives a recent wave of insurgency and attacks on security forces in former tribal areas, and failure to track missed children during the polio vaccination campaigns as the key reasons behind relapsing of polio cases in the country.

They apprehended that more polio cases could emerge from the tribal belt of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, the Pashtun areas of Balochistan, and super high-risk union councils in Karachi in the coming high-transmission season of summer.

They also claimed that hundreds of children could not be vaccinated against the crippling disease due to poor quality vaccination drives in the last few months, the report said.

Polio eradication authorities in Pakistan reported the second polio case from North Waziristan on April 29 when a two-year-old baby girl was found infected with polio, while a 15-month-old boy was found crippled with the dreaded poliovirus in the same area on April 22.

Ironically, both the children had not received a single drop of Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) despite dozens of vaccination drives in the country.

Around $5 billion have so far been spent for polio eradication in Pakistan since 1994 as the programme started with the administration of polio dose to Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, the daughter of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Geo News reported.

Since then, hundreds of litres of oral polio vaccines have been given to millions of children.

Talking to The News, a former official who remained associated with the polio eradication initiative in Pakistan blamed “a deep mistrust in the Pashtun” communities, especially tribal area people in polio eradication efforts, saying despite spending millions of dollars on advocacy, adamant parents were not persuaded to let their children receive OPV drops.

“Hundreds of them still consider the campaigns as a conspiracy, secretly ask newly married couples to prevent their children from having OPV drops,” claimed the official, who is himself a Pashtun.

He added that almost 90 per cent of the children crippled by poliovirus were Pashtuns, the majority of them had not received even a single drop of OPV during routine and special vaccination drives.  (Agency)

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