Polio Programme back on track, claims Dr Zafar

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The PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza believes that the Pakistan Polio Programme is now back on track. The claim is based on results of the first nationwide polio vaccination campaign conducted since April 2019 after an orchestrated incident in Peshawar impeded the programme’s operations.

Terming the campaign a first step towards making Pakistan polio-free, Dr. Zafar appreciated the unprecedented support of the law enforcement agencies in peaceful conduct of the drive, and said, “For the first time, there was no geographical space on the map of Pakistan that was not accessible to polio teams.”

He was speaking at a briefing session organised by the Coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar on completion of the anti-polio campaign that was conducted from December 16-20, 2019.

Dr. Zafar appreciated the role of majority of parents and caregivers in welcoming vaccinating teams to their houses and emphasized that without the continued support of parents, a polio-free Pakistan will not be achieved. Admiring the role of frontline workers, he stated that the programme should be mindful of their sacrifices in the past and consider them heroes of the campaign.

The meeting was informed that 265,000 frontline workers had vaccinated 43.9 million children under the age of five (of the targeted 39.6 million children) during the five days of the campaign. In core reservoirs of Karachi, Peshawar, Khyber, Quetta, Pishin and Killa Abdullah, catch-up activities were extended for a day to cover children who were missed during the door-to-door vaccination.

“The polio eradication programme is headed in the right direction; the government has a firm resolve to defeat poliovirus transmission through optimum utilization of the low transmission season,” said Dr Zafar. Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar said, “Low temperatures are the best opportunity to hit the virus. Pakistan’s Polio Eradication Programme is fully committed to using upcoming campaigns over the next few months as an opportunity to stop virus circulation once and forever.”

The meeting underlined the need to enhance the capacity of the frontline workers. The inclusion of an integrated package – Polio-Plus, in the Super High Risk Union Councils (SHRUCs) during the next nationwide campaign in February was also discussed. To address misconceptions surrounding polio vaccine, a more rigorous approach that includes continued community engagement for countering propaganda and broader commitment to address perceptions was agreed.

For the first time, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative has initiated its Sehat Tahhafuz Helpline to assist in the reporting of missed children during the national immunization campaign. A total of 253 calls were received, of which 154 were about vaccinations requests. The call centre, with support of the operations team, immediately followed up these requests and 99% of the children were vaccinated. Through 24/7 WhatsApp Helpline, 79 vaccination requests were received which were also followed up immediately. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to contact Sehat Tahhafuz Helpline on 1166 and register their concerns regarding remaining missed children.