ISLAMABAD: An anti-polio campaign in 23 districts across the three provinces will be launched on Monday (today).

The campaign will be launched in six districts of Balochistan, eight districts of Sindh, nine districts of Punjab and Islamabad. Meanwhile, a campaign targeting 12 high-risk districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be launched on Dec 5.

The third ‘Sub-National Immunisa­tion Days’ (SNIDs) campaign, to vaccinate 13.5 million children under the age of five in 36 districts, was inaugurated by federal Minister for National Health Services Abdul Qadir Patel on Sunday.

Over 100,000 trained health workers will be engaged in the vaccination drive to inoculate children at their doorstep.

Drive will be launched in Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab today and in KP on Dec 5

Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Mr Patel said if poliovirus was eliminated from southern KP, it will be eliminated from the country altogether. “We are quite close to the finish line, and we are determined to get there as soon as possible,” he said.

The KP’s southern region remained the epicentre of the virus in 2022 with all 20 of the country’s total cases reported from the region. According to official data, 17 cases were reported in North Waziristan, two in Lakki Marwat and one in South Waziristan.

The minister said Pakistan had made great strides in the fight against poliovirus, with circulation being reduced to only a small part of the country.

National Emergency Operation Centre Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig emphasised that the campaign will be a “collective action” to eradicate the virus from the country.

“We aim to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of all eligible children,” Dr Baig said, adding that high-risk districts were the government’s top priority.

“We are keen to eliminate poliovirus from challenging areas while protecting the rest of the regions,” he said.

He urged parents and caregivers to get their children vaccinated and not refuse the administration of “necessary drops” during the drives.

“It is important to realise that poliovirus still exists in our surroundings, and no child is safe until all children are truly vaccinated,” he added.

A “SehatTahhafuz” helpline 1166 has also been launched to assist parents and caregivers in reporting missed children. Meanwhile, a 24/7 WhatsApp helpline 0346 7776546 was also available. As the virus was virtually eradicated all over the world, Pakistan remained one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with neighbour Afghanistan.

This year, Type-1 Wild Poliovirus (WPV1) has been discovered in 32 environmental samples. Of the total, 22 samples were from KP, nine from Punjab, and one from Sindh.

Campaign in Balochistan

The campaign in Balochistan’s six districts aims to inoculate 0.9m children below the age of five. It will cover 203 union councils in the targeted districts, said Balochistan Emergency Operation Centre Coordinator Sayed Zahid Shah in Quetta.

He added that all arrangements had been finalised to launch the drive in high-risk districts where around 4,160 teams will be deployed.

The campaign will be launched in Quetta, Pishin, Killa Abdullah, Chaman, Mastung and Zhob districts.

Balochistan recorded zero cases of poliovirus during the last 19 months and the virus has not been found in the environment since April 2021.

However, Mr Shah added that the presence of the virus in other areas and Afghanistan was a “huge challenge” for the province.

He also called upon parents to cooperate with polio workers during the campaign.

“Due to the unflinching support from all segments of the society, the spread of poliovirus has effectively been controlled,” he said.

He also hailed the role of religious scholars in raising awareness and said it was imperative for eradication of the virus.

About security arrangements, Mr Shah said the personnel of all law enforcement agencies, including Frontier Corps, Balochistan Levies and Police, will be deployed to provide security to polio teams.

Security remained a key concern amid efforts to eradicate the virus from the province.

Last month, a policeman and a Levies soldier guarding polio vaccination teams in Pishin and Chaman were martyred when armed men opened fire on them.

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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