ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar tasked authorities on Wednesday to prepare an emergency polio eradication plan for the next year to target high-risk areas, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of ten years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the world where polio continues to threaten the health and well-being of children, with Pakistani authorities reporting six polio cases this year.
Kakar chaired a meeting of Pakistan’s task force on polio eradication during which he stressed monitoring polio vaccination campaigns through technology, the PMO said in a statement.
“The prime minister gave directions [to authorities] to prepare an anti-polio emergency plan for next year,” the statement said.
Kakar called for the resumption of regular polio immunization campaigns across the country, emphasizing that best international practices and research be adopted for the use of Inactivated Polio Virus (IPV) vaccines.
The prime minister said integrated anti-polio programs should be adopted in high-risk areas, the PMO said. Kakar said important stakeholders of Pakistani society such as parents, religious scholars and teachers should be included in polio awareness campaigns as well.
He issued directions that a Ulema Convention should be held to shed light on the importance of the role of ulema in anti-polio campaigns, the statement added.
Participants of the meeting were told polio teams are administering vaccines to children at Afghan repatriation camps in Peshawar, Nowshera, and Chaman cities. They were also briefed that Punjab, Balochistan, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan were polio-free areas, whereas some union councils in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were more affected, the PMO said.
Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio have encountered difficulties as many Pakistanis harbor suspicions about foreign entities that fund vaccination campaigns. Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population.
The masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were 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.