Pakistan finds itself unable to eradicate polio
A healthcare worker administers the vaccine against poliomielitis to a child in Karachi, Pakistan, June 19, 2019. EFE-EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Jun 25 (efe-epa).- Pakistan has been unable to defeat polio so far and is losing the battle against this virus as 27 cases reported in 2019, which is more than the combined figures of the previous two years.
The number of cases has compelled the country to take a softer approach in convincing parents of the necessity of immunizing their children.
In Mal Godam, a shanty town in the city Rawalpindi, which neighbors the capital Islamabad, Sumaira Gul goes door to door asking if there are any children in the house and asks to give the vaccine drops to children younger than five. It prevents the spread of this disease through food and contaminated water.
The majority of parents allow the medical workers to vaccinate their children but a few reject the measure.
The slum is located on the banks of a dirty river that is full of plastic – an ideal environment for polio.
Gul is a part of a special immunization campaign in areas where polio cases have been reported recently. The campaign seeks to administer polio drops to 12 million children in 67 districts within three days in a country with a population of 207 million.
In one of the houses, a father said that his children were not present and shut the door. Gul, 42, will return after the three-day campaign is over to try to persuade him.
It could have been worse. The social worker said that residents will sometimes unleash dogs to chase the immunization team away.
"Some people say give us food our children are dying of hunger or medicines for our children. Why you always come to vaccinate our children?" Gul, whose work is also to convince the parents to have their children vaccinated, told Efe.
Refusal from parents is the primary reason that the disease has not yet been eradicated from the country.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are the only nations where poliomyelitis continues to be endemic.
Ending polio in these three countries would, therefore, mean ending polio on a global scale.
In Pakistan, the campaign against polio began in 1994 and its progression has since collided then with the mistrust of many Pakistanis who believe that vaccinating contravenes the teachings of Islam, leads to infertility and is a campaign of the West to terminate Muslims.
In 2017, eight cases of polio were reported in the country, 12 in 2018 and 27 up to now in 2019, a setback that led to the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization to confirm in May that the campaign in Pakistan was not progressing as planned.
The WHO cited the presence of the virus in residual waters and the increasing refusal of the parents and communities to have their children vaccinated as the main cause of the increase in infections.
The immunization against polio is undergoing a crisis.
In late April, a rumor spread that the vaccines caused many children to fall sick, leading to thousands of parents taking as much as 25,000 children to a hospital in Peshawar.
The crowd ended up setting fire to an area of the hospital before it was dispersed by the police.
Following the incident, several attacks against the immunization teams have caused the death of six people, both vaccinators and police agents.
With rumor-spreading rampant on social media, the number of unvaccinated children has gone up from 180,000 to 2 million.
The Pakistan prime minister’s focal person on for the eradication of polio, Babar Atta, has suggested that changes be made in the immunization strategy given the current situation.
"Less coercion, we are trying to convince parents. No police, no police cases against parents who refuse," Atta told Efe.
Atta said that they have the support of Facebook, Google and Twitter to stop the spread of rumors against the vaccination, which incite violence against the teams and propagate malicious information.
He added that he believes that with this new strategy, they will be able to convince more parents and will be able to stop violent incidents.
Despite the strategy, a vaccinator was shot dead during a campaign in Balochistan province, but Atta said that a police investigation did not link polio with that particular death.
"At the end of the year we will see a massive decline in infections," said Babar, who believes that the new strategy will pay off and Pakistan will finally beat polio.