Although not a single polio patient has been reported in Punjab during the ongoing year, United Nations and donor agencies have no plan to declare the province free of the disease till its eradication from the whole country in view of a persistent risk.
Sources said the Polio Eradication Programme would be implemented continuously in the province with the same seriousness till the eradication of the disease from the country. Officials of the provincial health department and donor agencies confirmed that no polio case had been identified in Punjab during the year so far but said the risk had not ended.
The World Polio Day, observed annually on October 24, was marked on Sunday with a focus on eradicating the disease. Like other countries of the world, Pakistan also observed the day with awareness walks and seminars organised by various health authorities and organisations.
Pakistan is among the three countries of the world where the disease still exists, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. The country recorded 135 poliovirus cases last year, while the figure in 2019 was 22. However, only eight polio cases have been reported in the country this year. None of the patients belongs to Punjab, where the last polio case was reported in October last year.
“However, no new case having been detected does not mean that Punjab is polio-free as the disease still exists in the country and we cannot take any risk in this connection,” a senior official of Punjab health department told The Express Tribune.
The official said that despite the hopes of some government figures not completely aware of the situation, neither the health department, nor the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or any other organisation had any plan to declare Punjab a polio-free province.
He said a number of polio workers had sacrificed their lives in the country, including Punjab, to see a polio-free Pakistan and it must be ensured that the mission is accomplished.
Meanwhile, the World Polio Day, which offers an opportunity to renew the commitment to eliminate poliovirus from its last strongholds, was observed all over the globe.
“Pakistan now is at a very optimistic stage in polio eradication,” said a UNICEF spokesperson, pointing out that no polio case has been reported in Punjab for over a year. “Given the current situation, Punjab, especially Lahore, has done extremely well to be able to limit polio outbreak. Lahore is a city where people travel to and from the whole country as well as from Afghanistan and a number of different ethnic and income groups, but the polio programme is ensuring to reach every child.”
“However, the goal of the government is to sustain zero cases and eradicate polio, which requires a lot more work,” said the spokesman.
The head of the polio programme in Punjab, Sundas Irshad, said, “The government and the polio progamme, in particular, is fully committed to making Pakistan polio-free.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2021.