Pakistan is fighting to combat polio while Covid-19 looms over the world

By - World Healthcare Journal

Pakistan is fighting to combat polio while Covid-19 looms over the world

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the inoculation of polio has become a top priority in Pakistan. More than 200,000 polio prevention frontline workers will aim to vaccinate all children across the country in an increased effort to eradicate the disease. The campaign has been pushed by the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme, a public-private partnership led by the Pakistan government and further backed by UNICEF, The World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Poliomyelitis, or more commonly polio, is a highly infectious viral disease that is most commonly transmitted by person-to-person contact. There are 3 different strands of the virus, (type 1, type 2, and type 3). Type 2 was eradicated in 1999, and no cases of type 3 polio have been reported since 2012. However, type 1 polio is still present in Afghanistan and Pakistan for numerous reasons, including a lack of transportation infrastructure, remote location settlement, migration, as well as resistance to vaccinations.

It’s an ambitious campaign, given that Pakistan is the 5th most populous country in the world, with over 220m people and around 10,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Compared to countries with a similar population, such as Brazil at 212m with more than 200,000 Covid-19 related deaths, they have been doing remarkably well, thanks to the government implementing strict Covid-19 prevention guidelines. These have been drawn up with Dr Palitha Mahipala, WHO Representative and Head of Mission based in Islamabad, who has been working around the clock and in collaboration with Pakistan’s Ministry of Health.

“From early January, when WHO sent us the technical guidance, I began working the same day with the Minister of Health on our Covid-19 response strategy. At that time, we didn’t have a single case. We didn’t have testing capacity. The first thing we did was to draw up a national action plan according to the pillars identified by WHO,” says Dr Mahipala.

Just a few of the preventative guidelines include mandatory face-covering in public (not doing so will result in fines), self-isolation for those exhibiting symptoms of the virus or who have been in contact with someone with the virus, and the shutdown of specific areas by authorities.

In the middle of these Covid restrictions, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is executing a polio immunisation drive to vaccinate around 40 million children under the age of five. Further, the programme is administering vitamin A drops to children aged between 6 months and 5 years old to build a preliminary immunity to the disease.

Around 285,000 polio frontline workers are going from door to door, wearing face masks and abiding by Covid-19 preventative measures, in order to inoculate Pakistan’s children.

“Our aim is to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of children,” says Dr Faisal Sultan, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Regulations and Coordination “This is key to reduce the immunity gap and to protect our children against polio and other diseases. The Government is committed to reach the goal of a polio-free Pakistan which requires the full support of the nation, especially from communities and the parents and caregivers of children under the age of 5 years.

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