Joint UNICEF & WHO mission confirms the need to intensify polio eradication efforts in Pakistan.
May 14, 2011, Karachi/Islamabad – As concern mounts over the increasing number of polio case throughout the country despite massive efforts, UNICEF and WHO visited one of the most affected areas of Karachi this week to determine how the two UN agencies could help revitalize efforts to stem cases of this debilitating disease.
UNICEF and WHO are working closely within the Global Polio Partnership and with Federal and Provincial Governments with the common aim of vaccinating every child in Pakistan against the highly contagious polio virus to eradicate polio forever in Pakistan by 2012. With 37 cases reported so far from FATA (15), Sindh (11), Balochistan (8), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (3), compared to 18 for the same period last, every effort must be made to support and implement the National Emergency Plan 2011 for Polio Eradication.
WHO Pakistan Representative, Dr. Guido Sabatinelli, and UNICEF Pakistan Representative, Dan Rohrmann, and visited several high risk areas in the Karachi area to witness the National Polio Immunization, a united effort by all partners to vaccinate a targeted 33 million children around the country with 2 drops of polio vaccine and a dose of Vitamin A.
One such area was Gadap town, UC4, Karachi, not only a high-risk area for polio but also an area that houses some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and for whom the right to health, clean water, education and recreational activities are significantly challenged. Despite the tough conditions, vaccinations teams and local authorities and the communities and families were welcoming and engaged in the polio eradication efforts. No one wanted to see their children affected by polio.
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Children under five years-of-age are the most vulnerable to the disease, but timely immunization can prevent infection. Children can be infected with polio when they eat or drink food and water contaminated with the virus, or when they come into direct contact with an infected person’s faecal matter. The virus damages nerve cells and can cause crippling paralysis, and can be fatal in a small number of cases.
Dr. Sabatinelli says that there are a number of reasons for Pakistan’s high rate of polio cases.
“Getting access to communities in some parts of the country is a real issue, while educating families about the vital importance of immunising their children is an on-going task. Children growing up in poor communities are more likely to suffer poor health and malnutrition, both of which can contribute to the need for more doses of polio vaccine to achieve immunity.
Mr. Rohrmann says that eradicating polio has the commitment of all national and international partners and significant resources being devoted to nationwide polio initiatives so time is opportune to turn the tide.
“The visit to Karachi was an important opportunity to witness one of the most challenging and high-risk environments for the spread of polio. Talking with polio workers and other staff on the front lines of the campaign was a great inspiration to continue the hard work required to eradicate polio from Pakistan.
“The visit also symbolizes the importance and urgency of the partnerships involved in our joint battle against polio. By pooling resources and working together we can make the vital difference that will improve the lives of countless children in Pakistan.”
Further polio immunization days at both national and sub-national levels will be run throughout the year, with the aim of reaching tens of millions of children.