ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Monday launched a national anti-polio campaign that aims to vaccinate 44 million children across the country, calling on the masses to partake in the drive to rid the country of the disease.
Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan are the only countries where the spread of polio has never been stopped. The potentially fatal, paralyzing disease mostly strikes children up to the age of 5 and typically spreads in contaminated water. So far this year, there have been seven cases of polio caused by the wild virus — all in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At a ceremony held to mark the occasion in Islamabad, Kakar kicked off the campaign by administering polio drops to two children below the age of five.
“Today we have kicked off the five-day anti-polio campaign by administering polio drops [to children],” Kakar said. “During this campaign, 44 million children will be administered polio drops and over 350,000 polio workers will take part in this national campaign, who are our real heroes and our frontline workers.”
He said the government would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistan’s international partners that are supporting the country’s bid to rid itself of polio.
“We have to save our future generations. This is our religious, ethical and national responsibility,” Kakar said, calling on Pakistani religious scholars to take part in the campaign.
Many Pakistanis are suspicious of the foreign entities funding the vaccination campaigns and of the Pakistan government itself. Many believe the conspiracy theory that the vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. The masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The doubts and fears have triggered attacks on polio teams in Pakistan and the security personnel guarding them, especially in the country’s northwest.
Earlier, Pakistan’s Caretaker Health Minister Dr. Nadeem Jan called on parents to cooperate with polio workers for the vaccination process.
To ensure the success of polio vaccinations, the government in Pakistan’s Sindh province introduced a bill last month that would imprison parents for up to one month if they fail to get their children immunized against polio or eight other common diseases. The bill was introduced after an alarming number of roughly 62,000 parents, mostly in Sindh, refused polio vaccinations for their children in January, prompting authorities there to propose the new law with penalties.
The bill is in the final stages of becoming law after Sindh’s provincial assembly approved it in August. It would punish parents with up to a month in prison for failing to vaccinate their children against certain diseases; they could also be fined up to 50,000 rupees ($168).