Home » Polio near extinction in Pakistan and Afghanistan amid global eradication efforts

Polio near extinction in Pakistan and Afghanistan amid global eradication efforts

by Haroon Amin
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Polio has been a dangerous enemy for many years, killing and paralysing children all across the world. But because to coordinated international efforts, we are on the verge of successfully eliminating this crippling illness. Since polio is currently only found in small areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, experts believe that the end is near.

Experts praised the progress made in combating the disease, which is prone to resurgence, during a recent virtual briefing marking ten years since India became polio-free in March 2014.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s deputy director of polio technology, research, and analytics, Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay, highlighted the advancements, noting that although polio is still common in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is currently limited to a relatively small number of areas inside these nations.

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He said that in these last few regions, the virus is “on its last legs.”

There have been two cases of wild poliovirus detected in Pakistan this year, compared to six in 2023. Afghanistan, on the other hand, reported six cases last year and none this year.

Experts credit the continued vaccination campaigns that have driven polio to the verge of extinction for this advancement.

The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region’s director of polio eradication, Hamid Jafari, noted that up to 2020, some 13 wild poliovirus strains were circulating throughout neighbouring nations. Since then, just two strains have survived, mostly in eastern Afghanistan and the southern regions of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Even though the virus has been eradicated from historical reservoirs in both nations, vaccination efforts are complicated by the difficulty of reaching isolated people.

Jafari pointed out that militancy presents extra difficulties for Pakistan, especially in the residual places where the virus still exists.

After applying the lessons learnt from India’s successful polio eradication efforts, Nigeria was declared polio-free in June 2020. Numerous programmes in Pakistan and Afghanistan have also adopted many of similar tactics.

Since 1988, the number of cases of wild poliovirus has decreased by more than 99%, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This decline is primarily attributable to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which has received support from the US CDC, UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jay Wenger, the director of the Gates Foundation’s polio programme, underlined the significance of continuing international efforts to combat polio, emphasising that the disease poses a threat everywhere it is present.

Although the fight to eradicate polio is an enormous global health endeavour, it faces numerous formidable obstacles:

  • Regional Obstacles:

There are still few areas where polio is still endemic, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Campaigns to vaccinate people who live in conflict zones or other hard-to-reach groups have difficulties.

  • Reluctance to Vaccinate:

Certain communities harbour doubts about vaccines as a result of disinformation or mistrust.
Engagement and education of the community are necessary to overcome vaccine reluctance.

  • Infrastructure for Health:

Effective vaccination delivery is hampered by inadequate health systems.
It is essential to train health personnel and improve infrastructure.

  • Population Shift:

The virus can spread through international travel.
Tracking and immunising nomadic people requires coordinated efforts.

  • Finance and Dedication:

Long-term success requires maintaining political will and financial support.

Despite these obstacles, strenuous work is continuing to move the world closer to being free of polio.

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