Polio is a paralytic and highly infectious disease caused by human enterovirus called the poliovirus. It can interact in its host in two ways: causes minor infection with mild symptoms or infect the central nervous system, which may cause paralysis. It primarily affects children under five years age, by invading their nervous system and causing paralysis or even death.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics, more than 1.5 million people worldwide die annually from polio disease that could easily be prevented by vaccinations. Analyzing the past few years data of Pakistan, there was a predictable increase or decrease in polio cases, eight were reported in 2017 while 12 cases were reported in 2018. However, a drastic increase was observed in year 2019, where the reported cases surged to 123. In 2020, 39 cases have been reported so far.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 26, 2020, suspended all anti polio activities, including house-to-house surveillance for next 6 months to avoid placing communities and frontline workers at risk due to corona pandemic. However, after four-month suspension, it has decided to recommence small scale polio vaccination activities from July 20 as the ban has resulted in a new wave of polio and other highly infectious diseases.
According to the data collected by World Health Organization, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin vaccine institute, the deferment of routine immunization services due to COVID19 is adversely impacting at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries.
Amid surge in polio cases, Pakistan has also announced to restart country wide polio vaccination activities in different districts claiming to vaccinate almost 800,000 children. Also, a four-day anti polio campaign will begin in 11 districts of KP including Swabi, Swat, Buner, Shangla, Kohistan, Mansehra, Haripur, Mardan, and Nowshera, where almost 600,000 children will be vaccinated.
Suspension of polio campaign has put children at a significant risk of contracting poliovirus especially in high risk areas. Keeping in view the value of polio vaccine, it is very important to protect children from this crippling disease by building their immunity through proper vaccination.
Government currently is in a very precarious situation as children below five years have low immunity to disease and are more prone to virus contraction. Though, government is trying to bring strong safety measures before restarting anti-polio campaign at national level in order to satisfy the children guardians. Any contraction of corona during campaign will completely shatter parents’ confidence and effectively halting the drive.
The government need to evolve a fresh strategy to continue immunization drive while ensuring safety of staff, children and parents. The government should run training session under respective district administration to educate staff regarding precautionary steps to ensure vaccination without putting at risk the child or themselves. The staff should also be issued personal protective equipment and other necessary equipment to ensure their safety. While, it is very important to enforce lockdown to stop spread of corona virus, however, at the same time immunization against polio is also of paramount importance to safeguard our young generation. Therefore, there is a need for a unified cautious effort to ensure immunization against polio.