Islamabad: About 27 years ago, the world had agreed to end polio by 2000 under the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) started in 1988. Today (Saturday) when the World Polio Day is being observed, 99 percent of the world is free of the disease. Unfortunately, Pakistan is amongst the world’s last two remaining polio-endemic countries along with Afghanistan that contributes to the remaining 1 percent of the disease. Though Pakistan has made significant progress towards stopping polio in the last eight months, still it is under limelight and enormous international pressure for contributing 70 percent of the polio cases appearing in the world.

Officials cites 85 percent reduction in polio cases, as so far the country has reported 38 cases this year as compared to 230 reported in the corresponding period last year. Circulation of polio virus in environmental samples has also reduced and genetic families of the virus have reduced from 16 to 8 that help finish the virus once and for all. Pakistan has planned to end polio from the country by May 2016, according to national emergency action plan. For which Pakistan needs 9 high quality vaccination campaigns till March next year to finish the virus and of these 2 have already been held, said Dr Rana Safdar, National Coordinator of Emergency Operation Centre.

Independent monitors overseeing the campaign quality have put the coverage rate of these last two campaigns at over 94 percent that is quite encouraging, he said. Continuing with this pace and ensuring quality campaigns in Karachi and Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering with Afghanistan, Pakistan will able to end the disease by the next year, he maintained. But hard-to-reach children, security of polio vaccination teams and lack of appropriate management at the level of districts and union councils continue to pose challenges to eradicating the disease. Although the number of missed children has reduced from nearly 500,000 to 100,000 in recent campaigns and these remaining missed children are being tracked constantly, yet access to every child in Pakistan is a key challenge, officials involved with the end polio programme say.

About 16,000 to 18,000 children in parts of South and North Waziristan and Bara are still not reachable due to ongoing army operations. The quality of campaigns in Karachi is also not up to the mark due to non-provision of security to vaccination teams that poses a serious threat to other parts of the country. Genetic analysis of the recent case appeared from Chakwal has revealed the virus had travelled from Karachi. Parts of Karachi, Peshawar, Khyber Agency, North and South Waziristan, Killa Abdullah, Pashin, Tank, Bannu and FR Bannu are high risk areas that are being termed as virus taps posing a threat to transfer the virus to other parts of the country as well.

Security of polio vaccination teams is another major challenge the programme has been facing. The official data shows that from December 2012 onwards more than 80 polio team members have been martyred while over 50 members have been injured in different security incidents across the country. Polio eradication partners suggest the country must continue to engage communities, train and protect frontline health workers, and reach every child with vaccine to accelerate the progress into the next year.

“The significance decrease in the number of polio case and poliovirus transmission is very encouraging,” said Dr Zubair Mufti, World Health Organiation polio team leader. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in the polio reservoir districts, towns and agencies.” High quality vaccination drives from November 2015 to March 2016 reaching and vaccinating every child, hold the key to success for Pakistan, he said. “Presence of overall strong political commitment, full support from polio partners and global community as well as availability of resources, all constitutes a superb opportunity for Pakistan to cross the line and gift a polio free world to the children of Pakistan and children of the world.” International community fears all the remarkable success of the world will be negated if Pakistan does not succeed in eradicating the remaining 1 percent of the disease. “It’s a make or break time for Pakistan,” remarked said Dr Mufti. “If Pakistan wins, the world wins and if Pakistan loses, the whole world loses.”

Separately Aseefa Bhutto Zardari yesterday said the parents should vaccinate their children to save them from this crippling disease of polio. In her message to World Polio Day, she urged parents to get vaccinated their children. The day is not far that no child in the country will have to suffer from polio with Pakistan declared polio free, she added. It was the dream of her mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto that no child should suffer from disability because of a vaccine preventable disease and now it is up to us to make that dream come true. She appreciated the efforts of all the stakeholders engaged in polio eradication saying that it is with great effort and hard work the number of polio cases have decreased from more than 300 in 2014 to 38 in 2015, said a press release. However, she said that this number is still too high and “we have to make sure to cover missed children and that every child gets two drops of the polio vaccine when they are offered.”

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari said the Sindh Emergency Operation Centre for Polio has played a significant role in the planning, coordination and monitoring of polio-related activities and showed confidence that the Centre will further curtail the spread of the virus. She paid tributes to polio workers who have worked tirelessly in rough conditions to safeguard the children. She thanked World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The Gates Foundation, Rotary International, UAE and so many others for their continued support.