News

India's Success Fighting Polio Motivates Rival Pakistan

An Afghan refugee receives polio drops from a Pakistani nurse at the Shamshatu refugee camp near Peshawar. (File Photo)
An Afghan refugee receives polio drops from a Pakistani nurse at the Shamshatu refugee camp near Peshawar. (File Photo)
Brian Padden

Last month, India recorded a milestone in its effort to eradicate polio when it marked one year without any new infections. During the same year, Pakistan recorded 180 new polio cases, the most of any country. Pakistani authorities say national pride is now at stake for polio eradication and they are hoping to overcome years of setbacks from natural disasters, misinformation and war.

Polio vaccination

A polio vaccination team in Islamabad is visiting every house in a poor neighborhood of Afghan refugees to immunize every child against polio. They are part of a nationwide effort to administer the polio vaccine to more than 23 million children in a three-day period.

Children are given the vaccine orally, just a couple drops of sour tasting medicine. Those that have been vaccinated already during the three-day campaign receive a small ink stain on the finger. Pakistan holds polio eradication campaigns either at the national or regional level eight times a year. Their goal is to administer six vaccine dosages at sustained intervals to every child under five years old to ensure lifelong immunity.

Eradication efforts

Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the prime minister's administrator for polio eradication efforts, says it is important to make sure that children, especially in poor areas of Pakistan, receive several doses of the vaccine.

“Here of course because of factors such as malnutrition, poor health of children, diarrhea diseases, because as you know the virus is in the intestine, it's in the gut and you have to kill the virus with the vaccine, so you have to give repeated doses,” she said.

After the vaccination team visits a family, they mark the outside of the house with chalk, noting the number of children vaccinated. Lists of families in the neighborhood are checked and re-checked.

Challenging operation

Dr. Hassan Urooj, the director of health services in Islamabad, says even under stable conditions a polio vaccination campaign can be a challenging logistical operation. He says the influx of refugees from areas like the Swat valley and the federally administered tribal areas or FATA, where there is ongoing fighting between Taliban insurgents and the Pakistan military, makes it almost impossible to make sure every child is vaccinated.

“If there is a security situation, insurgency in Swat or FATA, millions of internally displaced people leave their home town and their first place to stay is in Islamabad," he said. "So they are not in the demographic statistics. They are not on the data. But we have to cover them.”

There is no cure for polio and it can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection.

Effects of floods

The virus thrives in unsanitary conditions and Pakistan has suffered a number major natural disasters that has facilitated the spread of the disease. There was a sharp rise polio cases in Pakistan after the 2011 monsoon floods forced more than five million people into overpopulated, temporary shelters with inadequate clean water and sanitation facilities.

Ongoing fighting along the Afghanistan border and in Baluchistan has also made it unsafe for vaccination teams to carry out immunizations campaigns.

In some Muslim majority countries, officials also have to work to overcome mistrust from segments of the population that see Western countries as anti-Islamic, and are skeptical about the intentions behind the international vaccination effort.

Obstacles

Ali says this year they face increased resistance in Pakistan after reports last year that the American military in Abbottabad used a local doctor posing as a polio worker to try to confirm Osama Bin Laden's identity.

“We think it is indeed a highly unfortunate and inadvisable situation that occurred when the United States government, through apparently its CIA operation, wanted to collect intelligence and they used health and the immunization campaign as a cover,” said Ali.

Still, she says Pakistan is determined to overcome these obstacles and is putting added resources into the polio eradication effort, particularly after hearing of rival India's claim it is now polio free.

“It is a matter of national pride that we ensure that the maximum effort is made because failure is not an option,” continued Ali.

She says the spirit of competition with India has played a role in uniting Pakistan's political opponents and every level of government to focus on polio eradication as a national emergency.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs