2017 Historic Progress Against Polio – And the Year Ahead

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By Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq

As we end this year and start a new one, it’s the time to reflect on the words of our great leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah – ‘with faith, discipline and selfless devotion there is nothing worthwhile that cannot be achieved’. While entering in to 2018, let us build on this and renew our nation’s commitment to eradicate polio once and for all. 2017 proved another historic year for Pakistan’s polio eradication programme as we registered an overall 97% drop in cases from the dire situation of 2014 – cases consistently dropped from highs of 306 to 54 in 2015 - 20 in 2016 and 8 in 2017.

Each of our vaccinators, government workers, partners, and millions of parents and guardians who supported their young children to be vaccinated last year deserve our heartfelt thanks and appreciation. Special gratitude to our devoted men and women of the law enforcement agencies who have supported us throughout this noble cause. We would not have made these strides without their invaluable assistance. If there was a record book for high level political support and leadership, hard work, “out-of-the-box” thinking, preparedness and data-driven programming, we would be at the top!

 

Polio eradication is however, a zero-sum game and this dream figure is yet to be achieved despite this inspirational result and as long as the wild poliovirus is around in our environment, the risk to our children stays. In fact, our final battle to eliminate polio is proving extraordinarily difficult. For example, Karachi was free of the poliovirus for parts of 2016 but then got re-infected. Provincial authorities in Sindh have responded aggressively by hiring 500 new medical officers to dedicatedly work on improving the campaign quality as well as the routine immunization. Another frontline hotspot, Balochistan, has added 1,000 community health workers and 300 technicians to strengthen the team of frontline vaccinators. Similar efforts are underway in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Punjab, Islamabad and other parts of the country to sustain our gains.

We are so close now and all set to make 2018 the last year for poliovirus presence in Pakistan. Moving forward, we will have to maintain the level of commitment and continue taking polio eradication as a matter of national security pride. The high level political support across parties has to continue. We will need all the government managers and administrators who plan, execute and monitor vaccination teams to raise their performances in respective areas and ensure that the drops reach every child under the age of five -- in every house and every community.

 

I also call on communities and families to continue to open their doors to Sehat Muhafizteams to ensure that every child gets their two vaccine drops besides ensuring early childhood vaccinations in routine. There’s no limit to how many times a child can receive the vaccine – it is safe and every additional dose is advantageous. Contrarily, if the poliovirus invades a child’s body, it paralyzes for life, and can even kill. There is no cure from this disease! Parents must therefore, also take responsibility of supporting Sehat Muhafiz for vaccinating children in the neighborhood. This is the only way we can collectively ensure that we rid polio from our land.

 

It is time for each and every one of us to be a Sehat Muhafiz!  Let us work together in 2018 like never before. If we do, there is nothing we can’t achieve.

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