ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials over the weekend launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio in efforts to eliminate the disease amid a steady decline in coronavirus cases, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s health system.
During the week-long drive, Pakistan Polio Eradication Program aims to vaccinate 34 million children under the age of five in 130 districts. The country's efforts against polio were halted in March and resumed only last month as the COVID-19 infection started to decrease. On Saturday, Pakistan reported only nine new deaths from the virus. The country's total COVID-19 tally was 288,047, with 6,162 related deaths as of Saturday evening.
The anti-polio campaign started on Thursday in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was launched on Saturday in Punjab and Sindh. On Monday, vaccination will begin in Balochistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
“The August campaign is much bigger than the last campaign held in July, we are hoping to reach many more vulnerable children. I was encouraged with the success of our last campaign, particularly how parents cooperated with vaccinators despite the COVID-19 environment, and how our vaccinators followed the COVID-19 safety precautions they were trained on," Dr. Rana Safdar, who heads the government's polio program, said as this month's mass vaccination commenced.
He added that similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the prime minister's special assistant on public health, expressed hope that parents "will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign in August and help our nation ultimately end the threat of polio."
"It is imperative that Pakistan continues its fight against polio with an already accessible, safe and widely used vaccine that has saved countless children from polio worldwide," he said.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases in various parts of the country.
Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.