ISLAMABAD: Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Omar Abdi, has said his organization saw the possibility of an end to polio in Pakistan as only one case of the virus had been reported in the country this year, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Sunday.
More than 40 million children were vaccinated against polio in a nationwide campaign that ended earlier this month. At the end of September 2021, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme reported one case of polio compared to 78 cases at the same time last year.
Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio is still an endemic disease. Vaccine hesitancy is high in Pakistan due to misinformation and militants often target polio teams and police assigned to protect them claiming the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
“We have been looking at the trend for the last 20 years and twice before we came this close, but now we are closest to the finish line,” Abdi told Dawn, saying samples from sewerage now showed less percentage of positivity.
Pakistan, a country of over 220 million people, resumed its anti-polio campaigns in June, months after halting it due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The third campaign ended in September.
In the latest drive, a total of 335,387 frontline polio workers in collaboration with other teams vaccinated children, including those living in difficult-to-reach areas across Pakistan, according to the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) of the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme.
“The program has made significant gains with not a single case being reported for eight months, giving us a unique opportunity to achieve polio eradication,” NEOC coordinator Dr. Shahzad Baig said this month. “However, we need to re-double our efforts to ensure that every child is safe from this vaccine-preventable disease.”
Abdi, a national of Somalia who has worked with UNICEF for 15 years ago, also said Pakistan had “remarkably responded” to the coronavirus pandemic due to its leaders coordinating among different parts of the government at the federal, provincial and district levels.
He said it was a good omen that 30 million people in Pakistan were fully vaccinated, while over 60 million had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. As more vaccine doses arrive in the country, the rollout of the vaccine could cover a million people a day, he said.