By National News Desk
Despite a steady rise in coronavirus cases, Pakistan launched a five-day polio vaccination campaign on Monday, hoping to eradicate the crippling childhood disease this year.
It’s the first anti-polio campaign in 2021. Last August, the previous campaign—during a brief decline in coronavirus deaths and infections—included former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan.
This time, polio workers will try to vaccinate 40 million children across Pakistan while, at the same time, taking social distancing measures and other coronavirus precautions, Zulfiqar Babakhel, spokesperson for the polio programme, said.
Supplementary vitamin A drops will be given to “help build general immunity,” he said, adding that polio workers will wear gloves and face masks and go home during the campaign.
There has recently been a steady increase in both the deaths from Covid-19 and the number of new infections in the country. Pakistan has recorded more than 504,000 cases of the virus, including 10,676 deaths since the first infection was detected in February. On Monday, there were 1,877 new cases and 32 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate polio back in 2018, when only 12 cases had been reported. But there has been an uptick in new cases over the years.
Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are the only two remaining countries in the world where polio is endemic, after Nigeria was declared free of the wild polio virus last year.
Eradicating polio requires more than 90% of children to be immunised, typically in mass campaigns involving millions of health workers—a challenge to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, the World Health Organization (WHO) was aiming to wipe out polio by 2000, a time limit repeatedly pushed back and missed.
Taliban and other militants regularly launch attacks on polio teams and security forces accompanying them, as well as on vaccination centres and health workers, claiming that the anti-polio campaign is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilise children or gather intelligence.
These attacks increased after it was revealed that the CIA used a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011.