Azad Jammu and Kashmir has had no polio case in eight years. But the government is still vaccinating here. Doctors say it’s the right thing to do because people travel.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission. This is why Pakistanis need to show vaccination certificates before getting on a plane. The number of cases has gone down in Pakistan but we are still having an image problem.
Polio cases dropped from 306 in 2014 to 54 and 20 by 2016. In 2017, we had only eight cases.
Mass vaccinations are needed to stop it from spreading. The virus travels in fecal material.
End Polio Pakistan is the official website for polio partners in Pakistan, including the government, UNICEF and WHO. Data on the site shows that Gilgit-Baltistan was polio-free between 2013 and 2016. Then, a case was reported in 2017. According to paediatrician Dr Ziaul Hasan, campaigns must be held even when a zone has been declared ‘polio-free’.
Almost 0.17 million children are crippled from polio in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said an official.
Even if there is one child carrying the virus in any part of the country, all other children are vulnerable, said Dr Hasan. “Being infected by polio can translate into lifetime paralysis,” he said. “Why take a chance? The government must continue these campaigns and people should get their children vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and has no side effects.” Besides the oral vaccine, it’s advisable to get the intramuscular vaccine at least twice in your life, he said.
Dr Mashkoor Husain, an Azad Kashmir health official, said the government does campaigns because people travel across Pakistan. “Even though AJK is a polio-free zone, we have to take preventive measures as our people travel to other parts of the country and vice-versa,” he said.
Travel to and from Afghanistan is another reason for campaigns in polio-free zones, said the medical superintendent of Mirpur District Hospital, Dr Farooq Noor.
The government started anti-polio campaigns Monday in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. It will last five days in Sindh and Punjab and three in the rest.
With additional reporting by Amiruddin Mughal, Fayaz Ahmed and Rizwan Akram