ISLAMABAD - The administrative and political frictions likely to have affected the performance of polio eradication program taking the toll of reported cases to 13 by the mid of the year, The Nation learnt on Thursday.

The number of polio cases so far before high peak season of polio has reached 13. The latest polio case was confirmed from North Waziristan where the polio virus was confirmed in a three-year-old girl of Mir Ali.

According to the latest polio map, the virus has been confirmed in 07 girls and 06 boys from the KP, Punjab and Sindh provinces.  According to official details, eight polio cases have been reported from KP, 03 from Punjab and 02 from Sindh during the ongoing year.

Senior officials linked with National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) working to eradicate polio from the country informed The Nation that several administrative flaws led to surge in polio cases in the country.

The officials said that in 2017 the total reported cases were 08 while in 2018 the number of reported cases was 12 and NEOC was committed to end the program in 2019.

13 polio cases reported in four months

“However, till now in 2019, 13 cases have been reported before the high peak season which is alarming,” he said.

The official said that the political transitions since 2018 and lack of understanding on the administratively sensitive matters of polio program by new top management ‘mishandled’ the program.

“Political friction harmed the centralized administrative set-up of the program,” said the official.

The official said that the program in its administrative set-up includes a Prime Minister’s Focal Person of Polio Eradication (PMFPE), national and provincial coordinators of NEOC and the district administration.

“Administrative re-shuffles affected the flow of the program,” said the official.

“The new set-up focused more on ‘aggressive’ administrative and media strategy than focusing to convince the public to cooperate in the anti-polio drive,” said the official.

He said that security of the workers was compromised and a strict action was taken against the workers who didn’t work in their full capacity.

“Security issue of workers was not taken serious, while the hard handling of polio workers created trust deficit in the workers,” said the official.

He also said that the media policy of glorifying the parents’ refusals also backfired and the families resisting the vaccination were encouraged knowing large number of parents’ refusals.

The official said that before 2018 the polio virus was reduced to 10 percent in 55 identified sites for the existence of virus.

“However, the toll has increased and polio program has to re-initiate its efforts to end the virus,” he said.

The recent polio campaign initiated in all over the country had to vaccinate around 3 9million children in which 260,000 polio workers participated.

However, the catch-up campaign was not launched after the polio teams suffered attacks in KP, Balochistan and Sindh.

Responding to The Nation, the PM focal person on Polio Eradication Program Babar Bin Atta said the current situation can be attributed to a number of factors including the political transition in 2018 that led to changes at various levels of the system, the issue of chronically missed children, and massive population movements across the borders with AFG and within the country.

In addition, we have seen an increase in anti-vaccine propaganda over the past year, especially on social media. Such negative anti-vaccine propaganda has had negative impact on polio campaigns, resulting in a growing number of vaccine refusals and some distrust towards polio vaccination. As a result, we continued missing children during immunization campaigns.

It always takes months to recover from these types of attacks. We have ongoing trust-building work which helps mitigate the impact of these sort of episodes – without this ongoing work, the impact of these crises would be much worse. And we also have crisis communication plans aimed at effectively handling a specific crisis like this.

He also said that government and partners commitment to eradicate polio from Pakistan remains exceptionally strong. It may take longer than we hoped for, but we can get there. The strategies, which are being continuously reviewed and tweaked by local and international technical advisory bodies, remain the best adapted for the situation, and the structure of the EOCs, where the Government and all partners sit at the same table, is the best structure to deliver a polio-free Pakistan.