Health minister says 2023 is a crucial year for polio eradication in Pakistan as it aims to interrupt wild polio transmission

Islamabad, February 21 – An immunization drive to vaccinate over 6 million children under the age of five against the incurable polio virus has concluded in different parts of the country.

In Lahore, Faisalabad and the seven districts of southern KP: Bannu, DI Khan, Tank, North Waziristan, Upper South Waziristan, Lower South Waziristan and Lakki Marwat, the vaccination campaign target included all children. Children in 30 other districts with union councils bordering Afghanistan, Afghan refugee camps and in areas that see frequent population movement, were also reached with the life-saving vaccine. 

Federal Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said that after January’s nationwide vaccination campaign, this second drive was meant to provide added protection to children and stop the virus from circulating in our communities.

“Until we eradicate polio from Pakistan, it is crucial to ensure repeated vaccination for children under five to build their immunity against this infectious paralytic disease. We will not give up and there will be another campaign in March and more throughout the year because we must protect our children.” he said.

The Minister added that this is a crucial year for polio eradication in Pakistan because the country needs to meet its global commitment to interrupt transmission of wild poliovirus in 2023. “We have been very successful in most parts of the country and now we are aggressively fighting the poliovirus in the last few districts where it remains. In the February campaign, we immunized nearly 6.3 million children,” the Health Minister added.

National Emergency Operations Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig said the poliovirus travels with under-immunized people, which is why this campaign was specifically designed to vaccinate vulnerable children in communities that have frequent population movement and in Afghan refugee camps.

Dr Baig personally monitored the drive in southern KP where he met with polio teams and observed campaign operations. “I am constantly impressed by the dedication of frontline workers, particularly women workers, who do not give up despite many challenges, and continue to bring the life-saving vaccine to people’s doorsteps,” he said.

“In many areas of southern KP, particularly in Bannu, we have made real progress against the virus,” he added.

Pakistan has not reported a human polio case since September 2022, after 20 children were paralyzed in an outbreak in southern KP. However, there has been consistent evidence of the presence of the virus as the programme conducts active disease surveillance. In January, the virus was detected twice in sewage samples from Lahore. 

Note for the Editor:

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free, besides the two endemic countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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