The Past, Present, and Future of Polio in Pakistan is actually a way to depict the grim reality of the fact that polio has some serious controversy in this region. In 1988, the World Health Assembly concluded its meeting with a unanimous decision: Eradicate poliomyelitis by the year 2000. The decision was not one out of blue. Voices for a global campaign to counter this epidemic were getting stronger with every new victim. Thousands of people who became a victim of polio shook the entire global population.
Under this mounting pressure, in 1988, GPEI: Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched. The results produced by this largest public health initiative speak for its success. From deadly prevalence in five continents to being confined to three countries, that is the remarkable story of GPEI. One of those three countries in which Polio still prevails in Pakistan.
Factors influencing the prevalence of Polio in Pakistan
Polio in Pakistan makes quite a heartbreaking story to read. Despite the vigorous vaccination, the Polio endemic still threatens Pakistan courtesy numerous reasons. Highlighting these factors is important because campaigns to fight polio in Pakistan are directly influenced by these factors. Now, let us glance over a few of these factors.
Deplorable Health Infrastructure:
In any underdeveloped country, a choke on the health care budget is a thing of routine. Pakistan is no exception to this tragedy. A handy sum dedicated to Polio Eradication Initiative has made a considerable difference. However, the overall situation needs a remarkable turnaround.
It is unfortunate yet true that the sub-continental climate reduces the efficacy of the polio vaccine. As a result, the vaccine has to be administered a lot more times than normal, and regularly as well. This is a major hindrance in eliminating polio in Pakistan.
The propaganda machinery:
It is not possible to be a Pakistani and have not come across countless conspiracy theories concerning the polio vaccine. The vaccine has pig fat, alcohol, causes sterility and what not. This forms just the tip of the iceberg. It takes a lot to convince Pakistani parents for a few drops of the vaccine.
Lowered resistance because of malnutrition is relatively less discussed but yet, another important aspect of the overall prevalence of polio in Pakistan.
These factors and a few others snowball into another, resulting in an encouraging environment. An environment in which poliovirus multiplies and transmits unchecked.
Polio in Pakistan: The past
The World Health Organization launched an Extended Program of Immunization in the 1970s in Pakistan. The six diseases that this program was designed to fight also included the polio disease. The program looked promising for a while as the percentage of the vaccinated population increased slowly. WHO even went on to predict that by 2000, polio in Pakistan would exist only in the history books.
In 1991, the EPI program blinked for the first time. The train of positive indicators suddenly came to halt. The number of vaccinated children swayed lazily between 80-83%. The Centre for Disease Control reported a vaccination failure in April of 1998 because of various reasons. These reasons were more or less the same ones we have discussed already in previous lines.
As the threat tide looked to hit the bay with even greater strength, many organizations rose to the challenge. A significant development was switch to the injectable polio vaccine from the oral polio vaccine. It was because of these organizations and their efforts that by 2014, Pakistan looked closer to the goal of complete eradication of polio in Pakistan.
Current status of Polio in Pakistan
Pakistan is still a polio harboring country. However, one cannot overlook the good work done by national and international agencies in the past decade. By 2015, a drop as high as 70% was observed in the new cases of polio. The vigorous vaccination campaigns in the tribal areas played a major role in bringing down this number.
However, 2019 was quite a challenging year. According to GPEI, the total number of reported polio cases in Pakistan in the year 2019 was 135. In comparison to the 12 cases reported in 2018, this is an alarming statistic. Something on which WHO, CDC and the Government of Pakistan have to work in collaboration for regaining control on polio in Pakistan.
Polio in Pakistan: The future horizons
Because of the recent surge in the number of polio cases, the concerned authorities are compelled to reassess their goals. Milestones that are more realistic need to be set in this regard. Vaccination strategies are needed which are as stubborn and agile as the virus itself. However, there is no confusion and absolute clarity on what the future must look like. The future goal? Reduce the polio footprint in the country to zero in a minimum number of years possible.
Despite the commendable efforts made, polio still prevails in Pakistan. It is multiplying, infecting and transmitting at a scary rate. A joint effort is required to behead this loch ness monster before it is too late. After all, a polio-free Pakistan means a polio-free world, at last!