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Polio outbreak reaches 63 cases in Pakistan; eradication is possible with action and accountability at all levels

Islamabad, 9 August 2011 – With 63 new polio cases already reported in Pakistan in 2011, this country could potentially be the last polio reservoir worldwide, standing in the way of global polio eradication, unless progress is accelerated.

Daniel Toole, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia, is in Pakistan to meet with senior government and UN officials. He reiterated UNICEF’s commitment to the eradication of polio and emphasized the need to urgently improve local polio response, vaccination outreach and management, and, importantly, accountability for results.

“We must ensure access to all children as specified in the President’s National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication in Pakistan. We have a huge task ahead of us, and we must build on lessons learned and act now," Mr Toole said.

Since the beginning of the year, Pakistan has continued to see rising numbers of polio cases (63 in 2011, compared to 36 cases in the same period last year). Balochistan has now reported 22 polio cases this year, more than any other province or region in the country. The virus which circulated in the five high risk districts in Balochistan has now spread to districts previously not infected for the past five years, including Khuzdar, Noshki and Kholu. FATA has reported 20 cases, Sindh has 14, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has six, and Gilgit-Baltistan has one case. Punjab, with 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population, has not reported any cases of polio in 2011 – this is a major accomplishment that must be sustained.

The National Emergency Action Plan launched by the President of Pakistan in January 2011 identified the need to improve the quality of implementation and programme management as key risks for polio virus transmission. UNICEF, along with other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, including the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been actively supporting the government to increase awareness and knowledge about the disease that targets children.

Daniel Toole acknowledged that reaching every child with the two drops of polio vaccine is a challenge in Pakistan. He also emphasized that with firm commitment from local authorities, close follow-up, and by taking direct responsibility for reducing the number of polio cases, Pakistan can eradicate polio.

“The President’s Emergency Action Plan is taking hold across the country,” said Mr Toole. “It is now vital for leaders at Provincial, District and Union Councils to be fully accountable and implement the vision of the Government.”

Eradicating polio from Pakistan depends on delivering oral polio vaccine to each and every child, including the most vulnerable and the hardest-to-reach. This massive undertaking can succeed, but only with the tireless efforts and commitment of the people of Pakistan. The next polio vaccination campaign will be held 19-21 September 2011, targeting 16.5 million children in the districts at highest risk for continued circulation of polio virus.

The spread of polio in Pakistan also affects Pakistani travellers, particular those going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the hajj, who must now show proof of polio vaccination on entry.



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