Pakistan looks set to be the only remaining country where polio virus still exists. The country is one of only three countries, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, where polio remains endemic, hitherto. Last year, Pakistan broke its own 14-year-old record with 296 polio cases. This year, a total of 27 polio cases have been reported from all over the world. Out of these 27, 3 from Afghanistan and 24 (90 percent) cases have been reported from Pakistan. This situation is really dangerous and shocking. The country needs concrete and effective initiatives to eradicate this epidemic swiftly.

It’s a fact that the government and health authorities are making all-out efforts to launch polio immunization campaigns to vaccinate children. Polio workers perform precarious work and make heroic efforts by carrying out vaccination drives in far-flung and high-risk areas to protect children from lifelong disability. World Health Organization (WHO) workers state that going into the field is like going into a war zone. Approximately 60 polio workers and security personnel have been killed while vaccinating the children in tribal areas and in other places. But workers and volunteers still risk their lives going from door to door in their attempts to rid Pakistan of the disease. No doubt, the sacrifices of the brave polio volunteers and security personnel are unforgettable.

The three-day national polio immunization campaign was initiated on March 16, 2015 to vaccinate a target population of 35.5 million children below the age of five years throughout the country. But unfortunately approximately 610,333 children were missed because their families were not available when vaccination teams visited their homes during the first two days of the latest round of the National Polio Campaign, which targeted 554 High Risk Union Councils (HRUCs) in 39 districts in the country. Other than that, a large number of parents refused to get their children vaccinated.

In the report, UNICEF and WHO revealed that the number of unvaccinated children in Pakistan had shot up to an unexpectedly high level. The calculations showed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported 700 refusal cases and 404 were reported in Punjab, including 250 in Rawalpindi. In Sindh there were 386, 269 in FATA while in Balochistan there were 251 refusal cases during the last round of polio vaccination. Another report compiled by local offices of the UNICEF and WHO, revealed an alarming situation with respect to refusal cases and the increase in the number of polio cases. Pakistan continues to be the country with most polio cases in the world this year followed by Afghanistan.

The prevalence of the polio virus poses a serious challenge to the government. To reach out to every missed child, the government has to use all means including vaccination at permanent transit points, the installation of health camps in high risk areas, and the inclusion of female volunteers in the programme to track 5-6 percent of the missed children that remain unapproachable in each campaign.

Polio is a preventable disease but in recent years children in Pakistan have been in danger of suffering the lifelong debilitating consequences of the virus. While the number of children affected was 199 in 2001 and 198 in 2011, a sharp decline was witnessed in 2012 and 2013 when only 58 and 93 cases appeared, respectively.  But in 2014, there were 296 reported, the highest number till date. This means 87 percent of the global polio cases were reported in Pakistan: 176 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, 64 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 29 in Sindh, 24 in Balochistan and 3 in Punjab. The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh, report portrayed Karachi as a major hub of the circulation of the polio virus, with 23 of the total 29 cases reported across Sindh.

According to the statistical data revealed by the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Sindh, in 2014, 296 cases of polio were reported in Pakistan, 26 in Afghanistan, 6 in Nigeria, 5 each in Somalia, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, 2 in Iraq, and one each in Syria and Ethiopia.

In order to make Pakistan a polio-free country it must be a high national priority to eradicate polio by taking vigorous steps and initiatives at all levels. There is a strong need for comprehensive and effective planning and strategy for eradicating the prevalence of the polio virus from the country. It also cannot be denied that the role of religious leaders and local dignitaries is important especially in sensitive localities. In rural areas, civil society organizations and social activists have to play an active role in creating awareness among parents about the seriousness of the tribulations that the polio virus can cause. It is also the primary responsibility of parents to ensure that polio vaccine is administered to their children.