Pakistan resumes anti-polio campaign as COVID-19 infections decline

Pakistan resumes anti-polio campaign as COVID-19 infections decline

Pakistan on Monday resumed vaccinations against polio to protect tens of thousands of children from the crippling disease after months of suspension due to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The door-to-door campaign to vaccinate 800,000 children under the age of five is scheduled to last three days in polio hotspots.

“Around 32,000 health workers who were trained on preventive measures and safe handling of a child while administering a vaccine will take part in the campaign,’’ an official said.

At least 40 million children had missed the periodic vaccinations since March that widened immunity gap among vulnerable children raising fears that more children may contract the disease.

Pakistan launched a polio eradication programme in 1994 and the country came very close to eliminating it but recorded 147 new cases, a five-year high, amid vaccine boycotts and attacks on health workers in 2019.

This year’s case count has so far reached 59.

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Pakistan’s anti-polio drives have often run into trouble due to attacks on the teams administering the vaccine and campaigns against the treatment.

Polio cases peaked at 306 in 2014, the year an offensive against the Taliban began, but there had been a sharp reduction since.

According to official statistics, the case count fell to 54 in 2015 and stood at 20 or less in the three years that followed.

The UN-funded drive to vaccinate children faces opposition from Islamist militants and religious conservatives, who believe the vaccine, administered in multiple rounds, is intended to make Muslim children sterile.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are among a handful of countries where polio is still prevalent.

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